A chest surgeon struggled to maintain his composure Monday as he told a jury that a momentary brush with Los Angeles police officers in 2014 left him with a permanently injured wrist that keeps him from practicing his trade, but an orthopedist called by the defense said he believes the plaintiff can still perform operations.
Dr. Michael Richman said LAPD officers threw him to the ground outside his Brentwood home after responding to a 911 call from his ex-girlfriend stating that he was contemplating suicide.
“In five seconds, everything was taken from me,” the 53-year-old plaintiff said. “I will never be whole again.”
The physician also said the officers handcuffed him in a rough manner that caused him arm pain during the encounter early in the morning of Aug. 26, 2014, and that he was not suicidal that morning. His excessive force suit against the city is currently being tried before a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
Deputy City Attorney Geoffrey Plowden has countered that officers patiently waited nearly two hours before the doctor complied with demands to come out of his residence. He said Richman was never taken to the ground and that his only complaint to officers was that his handcuffs were too tight, prompting them to replace the metal cuffs with a plastic version.
Dr. George Macer, who runs the Hand & Wrist Center in Long Beach, told jurors that Richman should be able to perform surgeries “with limited, but still functional range” because the plaintiff is right-handed and the injury is on his left wrist. Showing the panel his open right hand, which he said has been thumbless since an injury when he was 16 years old, Macer said the missing finger has not prevented him from doing surgeries or from getting malpractice insurance.
In his testimony, Richman said he had thought about being a thoracic surgeon from the time he was 8 years old. He said he spent 12 years learning his skills and that he remained single and didn’t have children so he could concentrate on his learning.
The doctor said that the night that officers came to his home, he was awake doing medical dictations after performing a surgery hours earlier in the day. He said he heard sirens, a helicopter and demands over a loudspeaker that he come outside.
“I was startled,” Richman said, adding that he called 911 to try and get an explanation.
Richman said he stepped outside and was even more frightened.
“I saw several officers with guns drawn and pointing at me and the light from the helicopter shining down on me,” he said. “I panicked and ran back inside.”
None of the officers said anything to him, Richman said. He added that he then called several people he knew, including a Fullerton police officer, to see if they could explain what was happening outside. But all the calls went to voicemail.
Richman said he went outside another time, but once again returned before finally leaving his home a third and final time through the garage after getting reassurances that his office nurse was present, as he had requested. He said he left through the garage so that he could take advantage of the light falling on the driveway.
“I was scared that if I made a sudden move that some accident would happen and I might inadvertently be shot,” the surgeon said.
Richman said the officers gave him no commands and that he was thrown to the ground. He said he used his left hand to brace his fall and protect his face.
“It was like out of nowhere, it was surreal,” Richman testified.
The doctor said he was left with severe pain and a burning feeling in his left hand and that he eventually had two surgeries on his wrist. He took off a brace he wears on the wrist to show jurors the limits on his left hand dexterity compared to his right hand.
Richman said he had a “great result” from the surgeries in that he no longer had pain, but that the repairs could not restore him to his condition before the fall. He dabbed his face with facial tissue as he explained the consequences of his injury.
“I had a gift from God,” Richman said. “There’s an old surgeon’s adage, “a chance to cut is a chance to cure. I feel like my life is a waste.”
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