BY JULIE ROWE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 4, 2007
The Ann Arbor doctor charged with two counts of attempting to interfere with police and emergency medical personnel at an event held in the Michigan League last year was found not guilty last night.
The jury deliberated for about four and a half hours after closing arguments ended yesterday.
The defense argued that Catherine Wilkerson, a physician at the Packard Community Clinic and a protester at the event, was acting as a physician, not a protester, when she criticized the treatment fellow protester Blaine Coleman received from police and paramedics.
Wilkerson and Coleman were protesting at an event sponsored by the American Movement for Israel. Georgetown University Prof. Raymond Tanter discussed U.S. foreign policy in Iran. Protesters said that Tanter's speech called for military action against Iran, which they opposed.
Prosecuting attorney Margaret Connors argued that Wilkerson's actions were an attempt to create chaos during Coleman's arrest, not out of concern for Coleman's safety.
"They knew what they were doing," Connors said of Wilkerson and Coleman. "They went there with an agenda; they went there to confront. She was acting as a protester confronting a situation, certainly not as a physician."
In his final argument yesterday, Hugh Davis, Wilkerson's attorney, cited Wilkerson's testimony that she was only concerned for Coleman's safety. Davis argued that Wilkerson's actions saved Coleman from potentially serious consequences.
Wilkerson, who was identified by the court as an expert witness on emergency medicine, testified that officers put Coleman at risk for positional asphyxia -- a condition she says is responsible for many deaths.
"I saw someone who was suffering and might have his life at risk," Wilkerson said.
Numerous witnesses said Coleman, lying face down as police handcuffed him, stopped responding and appeared to be unconscious. Officer Mark West of the Department of Public Safety said he responded by turning Coleman over onto his back. DPS Sergeant Jan Conners said she then cradled Coleman's head in her lap to stabilize his neck. Wilkerson said that she continued to check Coleman's pulse and monitor his breathing.
West said he saw Coleman open his eyes periodically and he wasn't sure whether Coleman was conscious.
Huron Valley Ambulance paramedics attempted to revive Coleman with ammonia inhalants when they arrived on the scene.
Wilkerson said she was "stunned" when she saw the paramedic use ammonia.
"I hadn't seen that done in decades," she said. Wilkerson said the paramedic then used two more capsules, which caused Coleman to spit and sputter.
Sol Metz, a defense witness, said during testimony that he saw a paramedic hold three ammonia capsules underneath Coleman's nose. Metz said that the paramedic then cupped his hands around Coleman's mouth and nose and said, "You don't like that, do you?"
Wilkerson said she intervened at this point and called the paramedics actions "punitive" and lacking medical usefulness.
HVA personnel have stopped using ammonia inhalants since the incident; a move that HVA employees who testified at the trial admit was made in response to Wilkerson's concerns.
During the prosecution's final argument, Connors said police and paramedics told Wilkerson at least 12 times to calm down and move away from the scene. Connors said Wilkerson's speech was disruptive and impeded the ability of officers and paramedics to do their jobs.
"It was about confrontation, not treatment," Connors said. "The defendant kept interfering with HVA. Her voice was the loudest - she was a cheerleader for the crowd."
During jury deliberations, Wilkerson said the First Amendment protected her actions.
"There is not a single word that she said that isn't protected by the First Amendment," said Davis, Wilkerson's attorney. "This case is about the criminalization of free speech."