Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In The News - Man Thrown Out Of His Wheelchair By Police Officer

Florida Sheriff's officials in Hillsborough County are investigating why a deputy appears to dump a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair in a security video. The agency is looking into what happened to Brian D. Sterner, 32, during his January 29th booking at a local jail. Footage shows a uniformed officer unseating Sterner from his chair, then searching him as he lay on the floor where he had fallen.

"She said, 'Stand up.' I said, 'I can't I'm a quadriplegic,'" he told the St. Petersburg Times late Monday. "Next thing I know, I don't see anyone and I feel the wheelchair being pushed up." Sterner suffered a spinal cord injury at age 18, following a wrestling accident in June 1994. In the past 13-plus years, he said, he's never had to prove to someone that he is disabled. And he isn't quite sure what led the deputy to question him as she did.

"I made it clear in plain language that I was a quadriplegic," he said. Sterner said that even his hands bear the calluses of a man who navigates life in a chair. "I push every day," he said.

Sterner served four years as director of the Florida Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center until 2006. In recent years, he sold wheelchair vans until being laid off in January. Sterner also played wheelchair rugby for 10 years on teams in Spokane, Philadelphia and, locally, the Tampa Generals.

State records show Sterner has no prior Florida arrests. The January 29th arrest stemmed from an October 25th traffic incident, according to court records.

Sterner said he's asked Largo attorney John Trevena to look into the matter. "I'm not really into lawyers," Sterner said. "But I do believe in responsibility and I'm very glad there were cameras pointed in that area because what she did to me is wrong. There's no debating it - just plain wrong."