Statements made by a teenager who was shot by Durham police cannot be used at trial, a judge has ordered, because the 19-year-old was under the influence of a powerful painkiller when a law enforcement officer questioned him in the hospital.
However, the Durham County District Attorney's Office has appealed the judge's order, saying the teen, Rahmil Ingram, was coherent when he spoke to law enforcement, even though he had received three doses of Fentanyl for pain related to his gunshot wounds.
Ingram, a Durham resident, maintains that two police officers shot at him after he raised his hands in the air during an encounter inside his apartment on Jan. 24, 2012. Two bullets struck Ingram in the buttocks and the back of his shoulder, new court filings reveal.
Ingram concedes he armed himself with a shotgun because he thought the officers, who had entered his apartment to serve a search warrant, were robbers. But he dropped the gun, he says, when he realized they were police officers. The police charged Ingram with two counts of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer, alleging that he pointed his gun at them.
Ingram's trial was originally scheduled to begin last Wednesday. However, shortly before the jury was impaneled, the district attorney's office appealed the judge's order to suppress statements Ingram made at the hospital. Ingram gave the statements, which allegedly included a discrepancy, after receiving a total of 150 micrograms of fentanyl, a prescription narcotic.
"It cannot be said that the defendant's statements were the product of his free will or rational choice," Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins ruled during a pre-trial hearing last week.
The trial has been postponed pending the district attorney's appeal of Collins' order.
The State Bureau of Investigation conducted an inquiry into the actions of the two police officers involved in the shooting. The final report has not been publicly released, but Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said the SBI found no wrong-doing in the officers' actions.
During last week's hearing, Christena Roberts, an independent forensic pathologist serving as a witness for Ingram, testified that fentanyl has side effects similar to that of morphine, including possible confusion.
At 10:15 a.m. that winter morning, DPD's Selective Enforcement Team entered Ingram's apartment in South Central Durham to serve a warrant on Ingram's father. The police used a battering ram to break through the front door, and shot four Bore Thunder flash-bang devices into the window. According to the manufacturer, the device uses a concussion blast from a 12-gauge shotgun muzzle that produces 182 decibels of sound.
By comparison, the sound of a jet airliner taking off registers 150 decibels, which can rupture an eardrum.
When Ingram heard the blast, he thought his family was being robbed, he says. He grabbed a gun and headed into a narrow hallway, where he encountered the officers.
Ingram says he dropped the gun and put his hands in the air. In her report, Roberts gave an opinion that Ingram's body was partially turned to the side, with his arms partially in the air, when he was struck by the first bullet.
According to Roberts' report, the first bullet could have knocked him onto his back with his legs bent above him, putting him in a position for the second bullet to enter the fold between his leg and buttocks.
But in written statements, Officers John Lloyd and Brian Sauerbier said they shot at Ingram in self-defense after he pointed his gun at them from about 15 feet away in the hallway. Sauerbier stated that he fired two shots; Lloyd said he fired three rounds, though Roberts later determined that it was two.
Ingram's criminal history includes convictions for second-degree trespassing, assault on a government official and resisting a public officer, along with a felony cocaine charge that occurred after the Durham shooting, according to the Orange County clerk's office.
After the shooting, an ambulance rushed Ingram to Duke University Hospital, where he was quickly given a 50-microgram intravenous dose of fentanyl. When Ingram's pain did not subside, hospital personnel administered two more 50-microgram doses of fentanyl within 80 minutes.
Two hours after the third dose, a hospital nurse noted in Ingram's medical chart that he was still in pain—alternating "between crying loudly and yelling"—and that Dilaudid, another pain-relieving narcotic, had been ordered for him.
However, the nurse's note suggested that the dose of Dilaudid would be delayed because the police wanted an SBI agent to interview Ingram first.
"Will give mediation to pt after SBI interview per police request. MD informed." the note said.
About 20 minutes after the nurse wrote the note, SBI Special Agent B.S. Fleming arrived at the hospital to investigate the shooting. Fleming read Ingram his Miranda rights while Ingram was on an emergency room bed with tubes attached to his body. Ingram initialed a waiver form that was later introduced as evidence. The initials were scrawled with what appears to be an unsteady hand. Fleming's interview ended after 10 minutes, when hospital administrators said they needed to treat Ingram.
Fleming testified last week that he consulted with medical staff to ensure Ingram was lucid. During the interview, Ingram appeared calm and coherent, Fleming said.
But in her pre-trial motions, Mani Dexter, Ingram's defense attorney, claimed that his statements to Fleming (as well as a Durham police officer guarding him at the hospital) were involuntary and unreliable because of the fentanyl's side effects and the withholding of the Dilaudid.
Ingram was "at the complete mercy of the police," who "withheld necessary pain medication as an interrogation technique," Dexter argued in court last week. "They were keeping him in pain, and that's essentially torture."
However, Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Yates countered that there was no evidence that Ingram was incoherent at the hospital; nor was there evidence that the Dilaudid was withheld for interrogation purposes. "We never heard an opinion that his faculties were impaired," Yates said.
In siding with Dexter, Judge Collins based his order to suppress Ingram's statements solely on the side effects of the fentanyl. Collins declined to rule on whether the police withheld the Dilaudid from him.
Ingram is out of jail on $50,000 bond. The two bullets are still lodged inside his body.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Shot and under the influence of fentanyl."