John Coté, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
A reigning Mr. Universe was charged Tuesday with resisting arrest and assault on a police officer after a scuffle at a
Redwood City movie theater in which police mistakenly thought the diabetic bodybuilder was drunk as he was slipping into insulin shock.
Doug Burns faces up to a year in county jail if convicted in an incident that has drawn sharp criticism from some diabetes experts who believe officers overreacted to a medical situation.
"Doug is the consummate gentleman," said Jeff Hitchcock, founder of Children With Diabetes, an educational support group that helps families of children with diabetes. "The treatment he received by the police is outrageous."
A Redwood City Police Department spokesman defended the officers.
"It's unfortunate that this event occurred, but I think the officers acted properly in the circumstances that they were faced with," police Capt. Chris
Cesena said. "Our personnel were not given enough time to assess Mr. Burn's personal condition."
One officer used pepper spray in an attempt to subdue Burns but with no effect. Both officers then wrestled Burns to the ground and needed three more officers, who arrived as backup, to handcuff him, police said. During the scuffle, Burns suffered small cuts to his nose and forehead, while one officer received a small cut to his finger and another officer suffered an arm injury and was placed on medical leave,
He disputed the police version of the incident, saying: "That story is completely out of line."
Burns, diagnosed with diabetes at age 7, said he realized his blood sugar was low shortly after entering the theater. Burns tried to make his way to the snack counter on the second floor but began losing his vision. Burns said he wasn't able to stand properly as a security guard escorted him down the theater escalator.
"The last recollection I have is leaning against the security guard as he's bringing me out and perspiring a lot," Burns said. "To say that I confronted them in a fighting stance? I couldn't even stand up. I couldn't see." Burns said he remembers nothing outside the theater, and the first time he recalls seeing police officers was as they stood over him while a paramedic treated him.
Prosecutors decided to file the misdemeanor charges against Burns based on the police reports, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. He pointed to a case several years ago in which the district attorney's office charged a man in a fatal car crash but later dropped the charges after medical evidence showed he had been in a diabetic coma at the time.
"As we read the police reports, we're not seeing a similar thing here," Wagstaffe said. "If (Burns) ultimately presents us with information to that effect -- that he was unconscious of what had occurred -- then we will consider it."
Diabetics suffering from low blood sugar levels -- or hypoglycemia -- often become confused and experience blurry or double vision, nervousness, irritability or even aggression, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.
"They closely mimic drunkenness," Hitchcock said. "The presumption that someone is drunk when they are behaving that way is a bad assumption."
They can become desperate in their movements as they attempt to get sugar-rich foods while their body is simultaneously shutting down, said Dr. Joseph Prendergast, a veteran
Redwood City endocrinologist.
Cesena said the officers had no way of knowing Burns was diabetic or slipping into insulin shock until after he was arrested. They did not notice whether Burns had a MedicAlert bracelet or any other indication he was diabetic, he said. Burns said he was not sure whether he had his MedicAlert bracelet on at the time.
After Burns was cuffed, police called medics to treat him for the pepper spray, and he told them he was diabetic and suffering from low blood sugar,
Cesena said. Burns was taken to San Mateo Medical Center for treatment. He was cited on the misdemeanors and was released without being booked into jail, police said.