Blood draws by officers in DUI stops questioned
Man files claim vs. county saying deputy infected arm
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.14.2007
Attorneys are putting new scrutiny on a practice
that has become common among law enforcement — having officers, not
medical personnel, draw blood with syringes in suspected drunken
That comes after a man developed a persistent infection at the
site of a blood draw administered by a Pima County sheriff's deputy. He
has filed what is believed to be the first claim in Arizona against the
practice, which could put local taxpayers on the hook for any damages.
Arizona law requires that drunken driving suspects submit to a
test or lose their license for a year — and it's the officer's choice,
not the driver's, whether to use a breath or a blood test.
Law enforcement agencies say having officers do blood draws
themselves is quicker and more convenient than going to a hospital and
more accurate than a breath test.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department has relied exclusively on deputy-administered blood draws for years.
But defense attorneys have zeroed in on the practice, arguing
police officers do not receive adequate training to do the blood draws,
don't have the health and safety of suspects as their top priority and
put suspects at unnecessary risk.
They have succeeded in getting blood evidence tossed out of court
and charges against their clients dismissed based on the fact that it
was a law enforcement officer, not medical personnel, who took the
Now the man who believes an officer-administered blood draw caused
his persistent infection has filed a claim against Pima County and the
Pima County Sheriff's Department. A claim is the first step in a
"I think most of the public does not realize that law enforcement
personnel are doing the draws," said Michael Bloom, an attorney in the
He said the practice raises several concerns, including that "the
officer is not there in a medical capacity, he is there in a law
enforcement capacity. He is not there to safeguard the health and
safety of the suspect."
According to the claim, James Green, a 31-year-old test pilot who
works out of Pinal Air Park, was stopped by a sheriff's deputy March 27
and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. After being
told his driver's license would be suspended for 12 months if he did
not consent to a blood test, he agreed to allow the draw.
Even though they were within walking distance of Northwest Medical
Center, the deputy performed the blood draw in the back seat of his
squad car. It took two tries to get a sample.
The claim says Green's arm became swollen and very red around the
site of the blood draw within a few hours. Five months later, he had
undergone several rounds of treatment with antibiotics and still had
the infection. The claim says Green can work only intermittently
because of the infection and may face long-term health consequences.
James Charnesky, Green's lawyer in his criminal case, is working
with Bloom on the civil case. He succeeded in getting charges dropped
after arguing that the way the blood was drawn violated Green's
due-process rights. Even though Green is seeking $500,000 in damages,
Charnesky said the motivation behind the lawsuit is to change the
Charnesky, who specializes in DUI cases, said the practice started
in Arizona but now is spreading to some counties in Utah and Texas.
Lt. Karl Woolridge, the Sheriff's Department Special Operations
commander, said deputies do blood draws because blood is more accurate
than breath, and the closer to the time of the crime the evidence is
collected, the more accurate it is.
"Our goal is to have fewer cases go to trial because we have better evidence," he said.
The Sheriff's Department does not track conviction rates, and the
deputy county attorney who oversees DUI prosecutions could not be
reached for comment.
Other metro-area police departments have officers trained to draw
blood but still use breath tests, depending on the situation.
Woolridge said Green's claim doesn't tell the whole story, but he
could not comment on the specifics because of the likelihood of a
He said it was the first claim he was aware of related to a blood
draw done by a deputy, and he said it wasn't surprising that eventually
someone would complain. "Imagine the total number of blood draws we
do," he said. "We make 1,800 DUI arrests a year."
DUI defense attorneys have convinced judges to throw out blood
evidence by arguing deputies threatened suspects with electric stun
guns to get them to submit to a blood draw, police officers used too
much force to restrain a suspect for a blood draw, officers drew blood
while suspects were standing, or officers with limited experience went
ahead with a blood draw even though a hospital was just a few minutes
In 2004, charges were dropped against a man facing misdemeanor DUI
charges after he said deputies used a stun gun against him three times
to force him to submit to a blood draw. He said he was afraid of
The Sheriff's Department has since changed its Taser policy.
While having police officers do their own draws is now common in
Pima County, medical experts expressed surprise at the practice.
The medical director of the American Red Cross Arizona Region
Blood Services said she had never heard of such a practice, and it
raised several concerns.
Phlebotomists who practice in a medical center get more training,
and then more practice, before working on their own, she said.
"To be a really good phlebotomist, you need to do a lot of draws,"
she said. "The more draws you do, the better you'll be at it."
Also, if the arm isn't positioned properly or if the person is
standing, there would be a greater risk of injury both to the person
submitting to the draw and to the person administering it, Miller said.
Miller, a pathologist, said there always is a risk of infection
with a blood draw because the skin can be cleaned but not sterilized.
But she believed the risk of infection would be higher if the setting
for the blood draw wasn't very clean.
Arizona has no state requirements or licensing process for
phlebotomists. The Red Cross training calls for one week of classroom
instruction, then two weeks of practice with a trained phlebotomist
observing each blood draw. The curriculum endorsed by the National
Phlebotomy Association calls for nine weeks of training.
The course for law enforcement officers, developed at Phoenix
College and now offered at Pima Community College, lasts a week and
includes two days of practice in a clinical setting.