Black Man Arrested While Having Stroke Wins $1.3M Police Payout

The city of Boston has paid a $1.3 million settlement to a 64-year-old Black man who was arrested after having a stroke.

Boston police had found Al Copeland slumped in his car and barely conscious outside the Berklee College of Music in April 2019, WBUR reported.

Instead of calling an ambulance, officers arrested Copeland. In a police report, they wrote that they smelled alcohol—but Copeland told the station that he hadn't had a drink since 1995.

"Why they didn't assume he was sick?" his wife Valerie Copeland added. "I can only and strongly believe it's because he's a Black male."

According to records obtained by WBUR, Copeland was transported to a police station even though he could barely stand. He then fell and hit his head on a wall when officers left him to use the bathroom in a holding cell, the records show.

It was only when Copeland threw up, five hours after officers first found him, that they called an ambulance.

The situation didn't improve once he was taken to Tufts Medical Center. Staff there also assumed he was drunk and left him in the emergency room for seven more hours, WBUR reported.

It was only after Valerie Copeland got to her husband that doctors finally confirmed that there were no drugs or alcohol in his system, and that he had suffered a stroke.

Al Copeland had to stay in hospital for weeks, undergo rehab and give up his job at the MBTA. He still has trouble walking and enjoying meals. He said he doesn't remember what happened after his stroke, only recalling waking up in rehab two months later.

"I heard... they treated you like you was a drunk on the street," he told WBUR. "That's what I heard... and it pissed me off. Immediately, I went to: all these white addicts all over nodding all over the place, they treat me like I'm a drunk on the street."

Changes at the Hospital

In a statement to Newsweek, Tufts apologized to Copeland. "We are certainly very sorry that these events occurred," the statement said. "Due to patient privacy laws, we are not permitted to comment on any individual patient's clinical care."

The hospital said it has developed "robust" programs and initiatives in recent years to prevent this type of error happening again. It has added a social worker to help patients who can't communicate and launched a center for diversity, equity and inclusion to help tackle care disparities.

The City of Boston agreed to pay the Copelands $1.3 million last summer after the family's attorney contacted the city, WBUR discovered through a public records request. It came as protests against racial injustice and police brutality took place across the country following the murder of George Floyd.

The settlement is one of the largest Boston has made in recent years over wrongdoing involving police, and notably didn't come in response to a lawsuit.

The records reviewed by WBUR show the Boston Police Department only began an internal investigation after the Copelands' attorney contacted the city.

That investigation found two officers and a sergeant neglected their duties by not responding quickly enough when Al Copeland fell and hit his head. The probe ended more than a year ago, but the officers have yet to be disciplined, WBUR reported.

In a statement to Newsweek, a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Kim Janey said: "While this case predates Mayor Janey's tenure, it illustrates the need for improved training for police officers and transparency within police departments.

"Mayor Janey has made new training investments for the Boston Police Department and implemented lasting reforms to make the department more accountable and transparent."

The Copeland family and the police department have been contacted for comment.

Update 10/14/21 at 9:17 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with comments from Tufts Medical Center.

Update 10/14/21 at 11:10 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with comments from the mayor's office.

Protesters march during a Juneteenth demonstration
Protesters march during a Juneteenth demonstration in honor of Rayshard Brooks and other victims of police violence in Boston, Massachusetts on June 22, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images