A jury in federal court ruled against a woman who brought forth a civil lawsuit claiming Austin police officers and Travis County jail employees used excessive force to obtain a sample of her blood following a DWI arrest in 2013.
Caroline Callaway, 26, was seeking more than $1 million to offset medical bills she incurred from separate elbow surgeries she says were the result of injuries inflicted by an officer jerking her hands while they were cuffed. She also complained of post-traumatic stress disorder and neck pain from a choke hold.
Det. Patrick Oborski, who made the arrest, and Sgt. Adam Johnson, who assisted in the blood draw, were cleared of wrongdoing. Travis County, a co-defendant, joined the officers in victory.
“We did absolutely nothing wrong that night,” Johnson said.
“I’m pleased with the fact the jury was able to see through some of the comments and the accusations that she made and to see the reality of what actually happened,” Oborski said.
“We’re thankful for what we feel is the just decision of the jurors,” said Wes Priddy, who works in jail administration for the sheriff’s department.
Callaway was denied another win after beating a DWI charge last year when her attorney argued a breakdown in the jail’s chain of custody could have resulted in a faulty blood sample.
“Juries many times return verdicts I didn’t agree with, but this was a good jury that worked hard,” her attorney, Broadus Spivey, said.
Oborski pulled over Callaway in the early morning of Feb. 4, 2013, after he saw her run two red lights heading north on Lamar Boulevard. Callaway told him she had nothing to drink, but contradicted that statement in testimony by admitting she had two beers and a shot at a Super Bowl party. Marijuana was found in her car.
Oborski testified that of the 5,000 people he’s investigated for DWI, Callaway was the most uncooperative and the most vile. She peppered him with insults, suggesting “Good (expletive) luck” when Oborski informed her he would be obtaining a warrant for a blood draw.
An additional jail staffer was called on to help hold down a restraint chair during the blood draw because Callaway was flailing violently, Oborski told the court. The arrest came on a no refusal weekend.
Attorneys for the defendants attacked the plaintiff’s motivations, noting her elbow surgeries came only after she filed the lawsuit in February 2015, and that her physical therapist said surgery would not have been needed had Callaway stuck to a recommended exercise program. The doctor who performed the surgery told the jury he could not say for sure if the injury was related to the incident.
Defense attorneys also presented evidence that Callaway’s initial PTSD diagnosis came long before her arrest that night and that she has struggled with mental illness for some time.
A psychologist who treats Callaway testified that even though the arrest brought great stress to her client, Callaway had made positive steps by attaining employment and strengthening her relationship with her parents.
“She is doing well,” said her psychologist Karen Thompson.
Callaway testified that a mask she was forced to wear for five or 10 seconds to prevent biting and spitting caused her to panic and made her feel like “I was going to die.”