The Police Tried to Make Me Medically Examine a Man Against His Will

It’s illegal to treat someone without consent. That doesn’t stop some of my colleagues.

Michele Harper
Published in
19 min readJul 7, 2020


A photo of a Black female doctor sitting in an examination room, arms crossed.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

“Just make him do it! ” A voice rang out, followed by the sound of metal grating on metal.

I leaned past my computer screen toward the triage area to see a young man in handcuffs chafing at the bony prominences of his reddened wrists. Fading charcoal gray lines of graphic tattoos on his left forearm were almost indecipherable against his dark skin.

“I didn’t do nothing!” the prisoner shouted.

“That’s enough out of you!” a police officer commanded. “Listen, we have to take your vital signs. Put on this gown.” The voice was from Carl, the charge nurse assigned to head the nursing team for the shift.

“I ain’t doin’ nuthin’. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to put on that gown. I’m not doin’ nuthin’.” The young man looked away — away from the charge nurse who tried to stare at him straight in the face, away from the officer who looked only at the nurse, away from the audience comprising the full ER occupants, who were intently watching the show.

His white shirt, made brighter still by the contrast of his chocolate skin, quivered with every shallow exhale. His dark jeans were clean and fit perfectly, as if he had just been wearing them on a Diesel runway. His white trainers weren’t new, but they were certainly well cared for — bright, clean, polished. He couldn’t have been more than five foot nine and looked thin and frail under his fashionable attire.

The four officers who brought him in seemed like overkill — like rolling in military tanks to secure a small-town demonstration.

“You’re gonna have to make him do it,” one police officer said to Carl. “He has to be examined, so you’re just gonna have to make him comply.”

I shifted my chair to keep one ear and one eye on the commotion, eavesdropping as I clicked away at my computer. This section of the ER was circular, with the doctor’s station in the middle, so it was possible to keep an eye on most rooms. The situation didn’t appear to be defusing, so I knew I needed to wrap up my work and head to triage.



Michele Harper
Writer for

An emergency room physician for more than a decade and author of the upcoming memoir, The Beauty in Breaking. For more information visit:

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