UPPER MARLBORO, MARYLAND – A man who was hurt in a car crash but was misidentified as a cancer patient claims security guards at Prince George’s Hospital beat him up when he tried to leave the hospital to avoid chest surgery he didn’t need – “to have a potentially cancerous mass removed from his chest.” He adds that one guard repeatedly called him “bitch” as he roughed him up.
Joseph Wheeler says a June 23 car accident put him in the hospital, which is owned by Dimensions Health Corporation. When he woke up hungry on June 24 and asked a nurse for food, she told him he couldn’t eat because he was scheduled for surgery, Wheeler claims in Prince George’s County Court.
Wheeler says the nurse checked his identification bracelet and told him the surgery was “to have a potentially cancerous mass removed from his chest.”
Wheeler says his ID bracelet “contained a name that was different from Mr. Wheeler’s, appeared to be that of a woman, and had a birth date that was 13 years prior to his own.”
The complaint continues: “Mr. Wheeler, still in serious pain from the car accident and subsequent treatment from injuries sustained, was starting to fear for his safety as the hospital had misidentified him and he was being prepped to go into a surgery that he knew nothing about.
“At this point, Mr. Wheeler’s wife, Felicia Ann Wheeler, came into the room to see her husband. Mr. Wheeler immediately told Mrs. Wheeler about what was taking place. The Wheelers decided that it was in their best interest to leave Prince George’s Hospital Center and seek medical care for Mr. Wheeler elsewhere.”
Mrs. Wheeler confirmed with nurses outside her husband’s room that he was scheduled for cancer surgery, and when she told the nurses that she and her husband were leaving, “an argument ensued.”
According to the increasingly bizarre complaint, Mr. Wheeler, “hearing the argument, took out his I/V, got out of the hospital bed, put his clothes on, and started to walk out of the room. He was bleeding from the spot on his hand where that I/V had been connected.
“Mrs. Wheeler and the nurse met Mr. Wheeler at the door. The nurse told Mr. Wheeler that he was not allowed to leave. She put a bandage on Mr. Wheeler’s hand to stop the bleeding from the I/V spot, and then yelled for security.
“Mr. Wheeler, now bandaged and clothed, began to walk toward the exit of the floor while his wife gathered the rest of his belongings. As he moved toward the exit, two large men in security uniforms moved quickly toward Mr. Wheeler.”
These men, defendants William Reese and Donovan Scott, worked for the hospital and/or defendant Broadway Services, according to the complaint. The Wheelers say the two security guards were “immediately hostile.”
“Defendant Scott harshly asked, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Mr. Wheeler told both Reese and Scott that his business was finished at the hospital and that he was on his way out,” the complaint states.
“In the moments immediately following this exchange, defendant Scott began to appear angry and upset with Mr. Wheeler. He began to use profanity directed at Mr. Wheeler about getting back to Wheeler’s ‘damn room.’
“At this point the two officers put on black padded gloves in front of Mr. Wheeler and defendant Scott started to hit his fist against his own hand and moved closer in proximity to Wheeler’s face. Defendant Scott appeared angry and agitated.”
Wheeler, “in fear for his safety,” tried to reason with the guards.
“He told the officers that he had been in a serious car accident and suffered from multiple injuries to the torso and shoulders. Wheeler also told the officers that he was retired from the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and that he knew that the security officers had no right or authority to detain him. Wheeler stated that he wanted to leave.”
At that point, Wheeler says, Scott grabbed him and shoved him “hard from behind into the adjacent wall and metal railing,” hurting his ribs.
The complaint continues: “Mr. Wheeler, in serious pain and feeling like he was going to black out, fell to floor. Defendant Scott stood over him and yelled, ‘Get off the floor bitch! This game is over!’
“Defendant Scott continued, ‘I don’t care who you think you are, this is my camp, you listen to what I got to say!’ The vocal officer then grabbed Mr. Wheeler and pulled him up off of the ground as Wheeler pleaded with the officer to stop hurting him.
“At this point the defendant Reese said to the vocal officer, ‘Man, ease up on him. He might really be hurt.’ Defendant Scott replied, ‘Hell no, he don’t come up in here and be telling us what the fuck to do!’”
As the two guards “escorted” him back to his room, “Scott accused Wheeler of attempting to push the second officer down a flight of stairs,” and “continued to shout expletives at Wheeler,” according to the complaint.
Wheeler says the men took him to the hospital security office, where an unidentified lieutenant questioned him.
“After Mr. Wheeler explained what had happened, the lieutenant looked at Wheeler’s hospital-provided identification bracelet and acknowledged that Wheeler had been misidentified,” Wheeler says.
But that was not the end of the conflict. Wheeler says the lieutenant became agitated when he would not return the incorrect bracelet, and ordered the security guards to stop him from leaving.
He says a plainclothes hospital employee, a woman he identifies as an “administrator … intervened in the conversation” and after he explained the situation, said she would make sure he “would have his own private room and any type of drug he wanted, just to name the pain killer.”
Wheeler says he and his wife chose to leave the hospital, but when he tried to leave with the incorrect ID bracelet, one of the security guards “charged Wheeler, again calling Wheeler ‘bitch,’ and shoved him against the wall.”
“Mr. Wheeler spent the next three days at St. Mary’s Hospital and was diagnosed with four broken ribs, a sprained shoulder, a ruptured spleen, and a concussion,” he says.
The Wheelers seek $3.2 million in compensatory damages and $9.5 million in punitive damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.