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Man forced to take meds after case of mistaken identity got apologies – and gift cards

FILE -- Gift cards.
FILE -- Gift cards.

A 63-year-old Pennsylvania man has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that police handcuffed him and took him to a hospital where he was given antipsychotic medicine against his will – all because he was mistaken for another man with the same name.

Some time after the mistake was realized, the lawsuit says, employees of the hospital and a mental health facility offered him gift cards – one of them to Walmart – by way of apology.

Eugene Wright of Meadville, Penn., filed the suit Wednesday against Meadville police, Meadville Medical Center and Stairways Behavioral Health crisis center, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, accusing the parties of negligence and civil rights violations, among other claims.

Wright was confronted by two police officers and a Stairways employee near his home on June 15. They said he had made threats to harm himself and others at a doctor’s office earlier that day, according to the Post-Gazette.

As it turned out, Wright tried to explain, they had the wrong guy; the threats were made by another Eugene Wright. The wrong Wright was handcuffed, taken to Meadville Medical Center and eventually let a nurse inject him with antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medications after police threatened to restrain him, according to the lawsuit.

Wright reportedly asked police and health care workers to check his identity using his date of birth and Social Security number, but they did not comply. A police officer admitted he did not verify Wright’s address.

Alexander Lindsay, a lawyer representing Wright, said of the physical treatment of the plaintiff, “it’s our position it’s an assault and battery.”

“That’s what we’re alleging with regard to the hospital, and with regard to the police, it’s essentially a false arrest,” Lindsay said, according to the Erie Times-news.

After hospital and Stairways staff admitted to the mistake and apologized, Wright was given a $50 gift card to a steakhouse by a hospital administrator and a $25 gift card to Walmart by Stairways employees, according to the Erie Times-news. Wright said he used the gift cards.

Wright also said he has had trouble sleeping since the incident and has lost “almost 40 pounds.”

Hospital and Stairways representatives had not commented to the Post-Gazette or Erie Times-news regarding the incident, nor did police Chief Michael Tautin, citing policy not to discuss pending litigation.

Wright is now retired, but said he was at work the day of the incident, according to WPXI.

“I was powerless. I had no control of what was going on down there,” Wright said.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers officials have claimed that a mistaken identity arrest happens almost every day, with most of those people being quickly released after the mistake is realized.