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Kevin Faucheaux says he suspected his wife had overdosed on prescription drugs and was suicidal when he called 911 for help.
But he claims the two Provo police officers who responded ignored his pleas to call emergency medical technicians to check out Helen Faucheaux, who was stumbling around and slurring her words.
Instead, he alleges, the officers said his wife just needed to sleep it off, told him to leave her alone and "tucked her into bed" where he found her dead a few hours later on June 13, 2009.
Faucheaux filed a wrongful death lawsuit about a year later against Provo, alleging the officers were negligent by failing to take his wife into custody and deliver her for involuntary commitment. Her death was ruled a suicide.
Lawyers for Provo, though, claim the 35-year-old woman was coherent and did not give the officers any reason to believe she was suicidal or in danger of overdosing. In addition, they argue the city was shielded from being sued under the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah.
In June 2013, 4th District Judge Fred Howard agreed that Provo was shielded from liability and dismissed the lawsuit. But on Jan. 2, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the judge and reinstated the suit.
The appeals court said in a 3-0 ruling, "If a police officer enters a person's home concerned that the person may have overdosed and undertakes specific action to protect that person, the officer creates a special relationship with that person and consequently must act reasonably."
The decision puts the case back on track to go to trial, where it would be up to a jury to determine what happened and whether the officers acted reasonably.
Faucheaux's lawyers Ron D. Wilkinson, Janet Peterson and Marianne Card hope the case will lead to positive changes.
"From a public policy standpoint, we hope it will impact how law enforcement will approach these types of potentially dangerous situations," Wilkinson said.
According to an affidavit by her husband, Helen Faucheaux had a history of prescription drug abuse which included crushing her medication so she could snort it and suicide attempts, once flat-lining before paramedics were able to revive her. On the morning of June 12, 2009, Kevin Faucheaux says, his wife was under the influence and the two began fighting, which escalated into both calling 911.
The affidavit says Helen Faucheaux claimed she was injured so she was taken to a hospital and later released without treatment. Kevin Faucheaux says he picked her up and dropped her at home, then left for several hours to keep the situation from escalating again.
While he was gone, his wife sent him a text saying, "Goodbye," according to Kevin Faucheaux. The affidavit says she then called the police claiming her husband would not let her in the house.
When Kevin Faucheaux returned home, Helen Faucheaux was crushing pills and had left powder in the bathroom, the affidavit says. Faucheaux says he called 911, informed the operator of his wife's drug abuse that day and requested that she be "pink-slippedC because she was suicidal. "Pink slip" is a term that refers to the document used to initiate the temporary restraint of a mentally ill person, according to court documents.
Faucheaux says he spoke to the two responding officers outside the home about what had gone on that day and said if his wife was attempting suicide, it would be the third attempt in a year. After speaking to Helen Faucheaux inside, the officers told him she was intoxicated and angry at him so he should leave her alone, Kevin Faucheaux alleges.
"They told me they had 'tucked her into bed' and that she just needed to 'sleep it off,' " the affidavit says.
Kevin Faucheaux claims he pleaded with the officers to call the EMTs or to help him get his wife into the car so he could take her to the hospital, but they refused.
"They reminded me that this was the third call they had answered today and that if they received another call where I was the disturbance, they would arrest me," Faucheaux said in his affidavit.
But the officers said they did not tuck Helen Faucheaux into bed, tell her husband to leave her alone or say she needed to "sleep it off," according to court documents. They also said they had no reason to believe the woman was suicidal.
And Provo's lawyers said in a court memorandum that Helen Faucheaux said she had taken her pills only as prescribed and denied snorting them, declined an offer to have paramedics respond and replied "no" when asked if she was trying to hurt herself. She also stated that she had white powder on her shirt because she had been making pancakes, the memorandum says.
"The decision to leave a person, such as Helen, who has expressed no intention to commit suicide, in the care of her spouse, who presumably would exercise the care to watch over her, can hardly be seen as unreasonable," the city's memorandum says.