Washington trooper mistakes woman with brain bleed for drunk driver

A Washington State Patrol trooper arrested a woman on suspicion of drunken driving when she was actually experiencing a life-threatening brain bleed and booked her into jail where officials mocked her instead of getting her medical attention, according to a civil rights lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit filed Feb. 1 in Tacoma says Nicole McClure was booked into Thurston County Jail on March 21, 2022, where she lay on a cell floor for a day before receiving medical attention, The Seattle Times reported.

Doctors later removed part of her skull to relieve pressure building inside her brain from a frontal-lobe subdural hematoma, according to the lawsuit.

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“Nicole suffers from severe traumatic brain injury and remains unable to care for herself or engage with life in meaningful ways,” McClure’s attorney, Anne Vankirk, said in a statement. “Had Nicole received immediate medical attention, her condition would have been significantly easier to treat and the outcome far less severe.”

According to the lawsuit, dash-camera video and arrest reports, Trooper Jonathan Barnes tried to stop McClure after he noticed her driving too slowly and wandering out of her lane. McClure, then 38, had complained of a headache and dizziness and was headed home from work early, according to the lawsuit.

Barnes flashed his emergency lights to initiate a stop, but McClure kept slowly driving until she collided with a traffic roundabout, disabling her car, the lawsuit said.

Barnes approached with his gun pointed at McClure, yelling for her to get out of the car, dash-camera video shows. The video shows Barnes pushed her onto his vehicle hood to handcuff her while accusing her of eluding police.

The video also recorded Barnes repeatedly asking McClure if she was on drugs or had been drinking. “When’s the last time you used meth?” he asks. “When was the last time you used heroin?”

“I haven’t … I don’t,” she said, according to the video. “I’m confused. I think I’m tired.”

Barnes arrested McClure on suspicion of intoxicated driving and felony evading. The lawsuit alleges the trooper also didn’t call medics to the scene, despite the vehicle crash, and took her to a hospital for a blood draw, the filings allege.

Barnes didn’t tell hospital staff that McClure had been in a crash, the lawsuit says. The filings also claim that in his written report, the trooper crossed out a section detailing a series of health and medical questions, printing “Did not ask” across the strikeout.

After the blood draw — which the lawsuit says later showed McClure had no drugs or alcohol in her system — Barnes took her to the Thurston County Jail.

Chris Loftis, a state patrol spokesperson, said the agency is aware of the lawsuit but doesn’t comment on pending litigation. He said Barnes wasn’t disciplined. A call from The Associated Press to the state patrol union seeking comment from Barnes was redirected to Loftis.

The lawsuit alleges that McClure received no medical attention at the jail for over 24 hours despite her asking for help, vomiting, and her inability to stand up.

“Nicole recalls being laughed at and told she should ‘Have another shot,’” which she took as a taunting reference to the belief that she was drunk, not sick, Vankirk said.

Hours later McClure was taken to a hospital, where she underwent emergency brain surgery and was hospitalized for 17 days, according to Vankirk.

Tara Tsehlana, a spokesperson for the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which defends the jail, said the county has been served with the lawsuit.

“While we can’t discuss the specifics of any pending litigation, I can confirm that the safety of inmates, staff, and the general public remains a top priority for the Thurston County Corrections Facility,” she said.