A medical emergency does not give people the right to put other people in danger by ignoring traffic laws, law enforcement officials say.
Chattanooga Police spokeswoman Lt. Kim Noorbergen discussed the issue with the Chattanooga Times Free Press Monday after the police department put an officer on paid administrative leave because of his decision to arrest a man who ran two red lights last week while trying to get his wife to the hospital.
Officer James Daves will remain on leave until an internal affairs investigation is completed, Lt. Noorbergen stated in an e-mail.
By phone, Lt. Noorbergen later defended the police department, saying there is not one overarching policy when it comes to making arrests. Every police officer has wide discretion in evaluating individual circumstances when a person is deemed to have broken the law, she said.
But drivers still have a legal obligation, even when a life is on the line, to pull over when a police officer turns on the blue lights, Lt. Noorbergen reiterated. She said that police are trained to "serve and protect" and that Chattanooga police officers are more than able to correctly assess an emergency situation.
"All of this could have been avoided if (Eric Jesse Wright) had just stopped and said, 'We have a medical emergency,'" Lt. Noorbergen said. "Ninety percent of the time, (a police officer) will get in front of you and escort you."
But that's not what happened in the case of Mr. Wright, who now is accused of seven crimes, including felony evading arrest, after trying to get his wife to Erlanger hospital on June 16.
Mr. Wright must appear in Hamilton County General Sessions Court July 9 to answer to additional charges of assault on police, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, registration expired and two counts of traffic signals violation.
Mr. Wright was afraid his wife, Aline, a nurse at Erlanger, was having a stroke, she told the Times Free Press on Friday after being discharged from the hospital.
Mr. Wright also is a nurse technician at Erlanger, Mrs. Wright said, and they made the decision to drive to the emergency room from their home on Missionary Ridge instead of calling an ambulance because they knew it would be faster and were familiar with the importance of treating strokes quickly.
Mrs. Wright told the Times Free Press that they initially thought Officer Daves was helping them when he started to follow them westbound on McCallie Avenue. She also said her husband honked the horn and flashed the headlights to warn others.
But according to the arrest affidavit the Times Free Press obtained Monday, the first light Mr. Wright ran at Holtzclaw and McCallie avenues caused Officer Daves and another vehicle to "slam on brakes to avoid collision."
When Officer Daves turned on his blue lights, the affidavit states Mr. Wright continued at a "high rate of speed," running the red light at Central Avenue and McCallie, then recklessly driving around a parking lot at Erlanger before stopping at the ER entrance.
"The defendant endangered several lives with his reckless and careless driving," Officer Daves wrote in the affidavit.
Mr. Wright then pushed Officer Daves away as he got out of the car, scraping the officer with his fingernails and telling him it was "an emergency and that he was an EMT and to leave him alone," the affidavit states.
Mr. Wright carried his wife into a room of the ER with "no permission" of the staff and caused all doctors and nurses to come running because of the scene he was making, the affidavit states.
The Wrights could not be contacted Monday but said Friday they would be seeking an investigation into Officer Daves' actions.
Family friend Thomas Goggans said he believed the Wrights had spent much of Monday consulting with lawyers, but that he did not know what the next step for them would be.
Mr. Goggans said the Wrights remain "deeply concerned" about how the police department treated them.
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