Denied Medication by NYPD, Epileptic Man Has Two Seizures in Custody: Lawsuit

'A Pill for Every Ill'
Bottles of prescription pills go through an automated packaging machine. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty

New York Police Department officers repeatedly denied an epileptic man his medication while detaining him in a holding cell, resulting in two seizures and hospitalizations before he could be taken to Brooklyn central booking more than a day later, a new federal lawsuit alleges. The man was never charged with a crime.

The 26-hour ordeal began shortly after Ronaile Elianor was discharged from the hospital for an epileptic seizure, he claims. At about 1 p.m. on March 18, while traveling in a friend's car to pick up his prescribed anticonvulsant medication, an unmarked NYPD sedan pulled over their vehicle. Two officers said they saw smoke coming out of the car windows, and asked the men to get out of the car. Elianor, the driver and another friend accompanying them complied with the officers' request.

Two more officers arrived at the scene and searched their car and "no contraband or illegal substances were recovered from the vehicle," says the lawsuit, filed April 8 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York.

Jonathan Bulzomi, identified in the lawsuit as an NYPD officer, also searched Elianor's backpack--and didn't find contraband. Bulzomi searched Elianor and found scissors, medication and money. The 23-year-old told Bulzomi he had scissors and money because he's a barber, and he explained that the medications were Levetiracetam and Dilantin, prescribed for epilepsy.

"They see the pills and they started making jokes and stuff," Elianor tells Newsweek. "They say, 'Oh, he's a barber. Are you sure these are not drugs and you use these scissors to cut them up?' And I'm like, 'No.'"

Bulzomi handcuffed Elianor and took him to the 75th Precinct, in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. Bulzomi told Elianor he was arrested for having a counterfeit $20 bill in his back pocket. Elianor says he told the officer he probably received the bill for barber work and tore it up when he learned it was fake, explaining why the note was already ripped when it was found. Officers fingerprinted Elianor and put him in a holding cell. Elianor says he told officers he needed to take his medication at least six times and told them it was in his backpack and jacket pocket.

Elianor, who says he was wearing his hospital wristband at the time of the arrest, told officers his discharge papers and medical records were in the backpack--proving he needed the medication to prevent epileptic seizures, he says. But Bulzomi and another officer "refused to provide [him] with his medication," the suit says, and at 10 p.m. Elianor had a seizure and was taken to the emergency room. When Elianor woke, he was handcuffed to the bed, he says. He did receive medication while in the hospital.

The hospital discharged Elianor early March 19, and police took him back to the precinct. Elianor "once again requested that he be provided with his medication. The request was denied," the suit says. Elianor had another seizure, and was hospitalized again, the suit charges.

"I wake back up in the hospital, this time with scars...and a whole bunch of cuts on my tongue," Elianor says, pointing to his left eyelid, knuckle, and arm during an interview this week. "They're like, 'Yeah, you had a seizure in that cell again.'"

Police then took Elianor to central booking from the hospital. At about 3 p.m., Elianor learned the Kings County district attorney wouldn't prosecute him, the suit says. (The Brooklyn D.A. wrote in an April 3 letter to Alexander M. Dudelson, Elianor's lawyer, that "a review of the records...indicate that a prosecution arising out of this arrest has been declined." Newsweek reviewed a copy of the letter at Dudelson's office.)

Elianor, who is seeking unspecified damages, says he is pursuing the lawsuit because he fears other epileptics might be subjected to similar situations.

"My family members kept telling me...'You had two seizures in one day, you know you can die from seizures, right?'" Elianor says. "My doctors told me this: 'You gotta make a case against them because if you don't do this, suppose they keep doing this to a lot of other people?'"

Asked for comment on the litigation, the New York City Law Department said only that it's "under review." The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

Denied Medication by NYPD, Epileptic Man Has Two Seizures in Custody: Lawsuit | U.S.