Her decision to smoke a marijuana cigarette outside a Manhattan bar where she was attending a bachelorette party landed Jaime Rutkowski in jail, threatened her life and lead to a lawsuit that on Monday yielded $125,000 from the city.
On Oct. 16, Ms. Rutkowski, who has diabetes, said she was thrown to the ground and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana outside a club on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.
Stress elevates her blood sugar levels and at the nearby police station house, the blood sugar meter she uses was confiscated. She relied on the meter to determine how much insulin to inject into her system from an insulin pump inserted in her stomach. An overdose could be life-threatening.
The police eventually called for an ambulance more than three hours after Ms. Rutkowski had been taken into custody. Emergency medical technicians found that her sugar level was almost four times the normal level, dangerous enough to take her to Bellevue Hospital Center.
Ms. Rutkowski and her lawyer, Joel Berger, filed a suit against the city and the officers involved in part because they hope it will alert the the Police Department to the needs of diabetic prisoners.
“The settlement is so high because a woman nearly died,” said Mr. Berger.
Mr. Berger also said Ms. Rutkowski’s crime was “trivial.” He added: “Almost any jury was not going to be exactly shocked by the nature of the offense. They’re not going to view this as the crime of the century.”
Ms. Rutkowski was charged with a class-B misdemeanor and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that she was not fined and that after one year her case will be dropped and sealed.
Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “We believe the settlement is in the best interest of all the parties.”
The Police Department’s aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has led to an increase in arrests for possessing small amounts of the drug. While many of those arrests result in fines but no jail time, they do typically result in spending a night in jail.
“They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”
Mr. Berger said the police did not have a specific protocol to deal with diabetic patients, something that he believes needs to be addressed. “Police officers need to understand that when they arrest a diabetic, there are potentially life-threatening effects,” he said.
Ms. Rutkowski said she would use money from the settlement to pay student loans and to further her education. A graduate of Temple, where she studied chemistry, she said she’s interested in pursuing a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine. “I’m going to try and make something good out of a terrible situation,” she said.