Warning: This story contains graphic details of a medical procedure.
Police said he signaled too late. X-rays showed that he wasn’t in possession of drugs. The police said he told them he was hiding drugs in his rectum but he says the police are lying. Doctors refused to do the invasive procedure until the cops called the hospital’s chief attorney. So they drugged him and strapped him to a hospital bed.
Yet, when doctors in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., performed a procedure called a “sigmoidoscopy” on 42-year-old Torrence Jackson, it was done against his will and under the orders of Syracuse police, a judge, and the hospital’s top lawyer.
They found nothing.
According to the Post-Standard’s exhaustive reporting, on Oct. 16, 2017, officers from the Syracuse Police Gang Violence Task Force pulled Jackson over for not signaling for a turn in time. To be clear, Jackson signaled for the turn, just not in time, according to police. The traffic violation gave the police the authority to make a “pretext stop,” which is a court-approved way for police to stop someone for a traffic violation but investigate a separate, unrelated crime.
When cops searched Jackson, who didn’t have a license, they found a bag of marijuana in his waistband. The officers also said that they witnessed Jackson lift himself so high off of his car seat that he had to stick his head out of the window, which they allege is an indication that someone is usually hiding something in their rectum, so they took Jackson to jail.
At the jailhouse, police say that Jackson announced that he was hiding drugs in his rectum. Jackson says that is a lie, which one must concede would be a strange course of action by someone so concerned with hiding things. Either police are not telling the truth or, at the very least, Jackson would be a terrible hide-and-go-seek player.
As they tried to book Jackson, police say he got belligerent, causing them to break his arm. To control him, the officers pepper-sprayed Jackson and then put Jackson in a “spit mask,” making it hard for him to breathe. Then they took him to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Hospital records show that when Jackson arrived at the hospital, he threatened to kill some of their staff members. They quickly determined Jackson’s truculence had nothing to do with the fact that his face was burning from pepper spray, he couldn’t breathe, he was wearing a mask and had a broken arm, so they gave him prescription sedatives to calm him down.
While all this was happening, Anthony Fiorini, the same officer who said he saw Jackson lift his buttocks off the car seat; the same officer who heard Jackson say that he hid the drugs in his rectum; the same officer who said that Jackson’s arm was broken in the act of his resisting; that officer filled out the paperwork for a warrant, drove it to a judge’s house and had the judge sign it. Then Fiorini came back to the hospital with the warrant and ordered doctors to search Jackson’s rectum.
The doctors wouldn’t do it.
“If y’all can’t take this mask off my face, I don’t consent to y’all working on me,” Jackson said he told the medical staff. “I’m constantly screaming and yelling. I feel like I’m suffocating. I feel like I’m in a bad situation.”
“Police requesting for retrieval of foreign object per rectum, with warrant present. Pt (patient) is refusing all interventions. Given strong pt refusal, no further actions taken,” resident doctor Kavitha Muruganantham wrote in the medical notes, according to the Post-Dispatch’s Douglass Dowdy. The staff did, however, agree to X-ray Jackson.
They found nothing.
But Syracuse police wouldn’t relent. An hour later, another doctor, Kishani Heller wrote that Jackson was still refusing a rectal exam and wouldn’t drink a liquid that would “speed up a bowel movement.”
Again, I can’t imagine why Jackson would refuse to comply with the people who broke his arm, pepper-sprayed him, slapped a mask on his face and drugged him against his will. Why wouldn’t he simply agree to inflict himself with explosive diarrhea? It doesn’t make any sense.
So the police contacted the hospital’s general counsel and had them review the search warrant.
“Spoke with hospital attorney Mr. Lowell Seifter who has reviewed court order and has spoken with the judge who issued the court order, and states that pt does not have the right to refuse,” Heller wrote in the hospital records.
So at 11:38 p.m., almost 12 hours after Jackson was stopped for signaling too late, Dr. Hui Hing Tin, surrounded by eight police officers, including Fiorini, inserted a colonoscope into Torrence Jackson, without his knowledge, while he was unconscious.
They found nothing.
The next day, Jackson was released from jail, unaware that he had been probed. He later visited the emergency room at another hospital when he found blood in his underwear.
That’s when he found out that he had been violated.
Then they sent Jackson a bill for the medical procedure that the doctors’ notes, hospital records and police report all say that he explicitly refused. The total?
The hospital says that the judge’s warrant meant that they had to use “any means” to extract the drugs. The police say that they found marijuana in the car and Jackson’s car seat tested positive for cocaine. They also cite Jackson’s extensive criminal history. The city says that the procedure was done out of concern for Jackson’s safety.
“Of particular concern was the risk to Mr. Jackson in the event the suspected narcotic’s packaging was ruptured while in his rectum,” wrote Kristen Smith, the city attorney.
But Jackson’s attorney alleges that his client’s civil rights were violated. Doctors say that it is not a physician’s job to act as an investigator, citing the health risks involved.
“The physician’s role is merely to aid the patient,” said Dr. William Paolo, who first refused to do the procedure at St. Joseph’s. “If an individual doesn’t have any medical complaint and is purely there for evidentiary collection, and is not an imminent threat to themselves, then the doctor is not there to do anything against the patient’s wishes.”
“I don’t believe anybody should have any procedure that is not deemed necessary,” said Paolo, who is also a professor at Upstate Medical University who covers emergency room ethics in the classroom. “If a particular foreign body is not a threat to the patient, then there’s no medical necessity. Doctors are not an agent of the state and not obligated to become an agent of the state.”
Another doctor who refused that night says the procedure violated the physician’s “first, do no harm” ethics.
“I have explained to the pt that the packets may rupture and cause cardia arrest (sic),” wrote Heller. “The pt stated that he is fine w/ dying and understands the risk. I did not conduct a rectal exam – pt refused.”
The Post-Standard notes that the same incident happened at the same hospital in May 2018, with different results. The doctors chose not to do the procedure.
Jackson’s drug charges were later thrown out and he pleaded guilty to the traffic violation.
He has not paid the hospital bill.