UPDATED: Monday, April 15, 2013 - 8:42pm
McLennan County, TX — It’s been a problem for years, and a better solution has never been enacted, until now. McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara has decided to authorize nurses to conduct blood draws at the McLennan County Jail for those arrested for DWI.
Currently policy includes an officer from any of the different agencies arresting a person on a suspected DWI, taking that person to jail, and then doing a breath test. If the breath test is refused, an officer can then seek a search warrant for a blood draw. It typically takes a little time for the officer to get a search warrant, and once it’s received, the officer takes that person to a hospital emergency room and waits for the blood draw to be conducted.
“It’s a twofold problem,” said Chief Deputy Matt Cawthorn of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department. “During this time, the person gets more sober, and it’s not an accurate reading of their drunkenness. And, more importantly, this ties up an officer’s time.”
The wait time can be brief or long, depending on what is going on in the emergency room at that point in time.
“For something routine like this, you’re going to stand by for anything to do with bleeding, heart attack, or anything else,” said Cawthorn.
This wait can be a problem because it leaves no one to cover the officer’s job while waiting in the emergency room with the person suspected of DWI. In turn, Cawthorn says the “citizens are not being served well at that point.”
The new policy will cut on the officers waiting room time.
When the change was announced, Cawthorn says the jail’s medical staff met it with resistance because they believed there was now an ethical issue. The medical staff, Cawthorn explained, “says they are patient advocates of inmates of the jail. We do not want to take blood from someone who doesn’t want their blood taken.”
However, Cawthorn says an inmate is someone who has been formally booked and in custody of the sheriff. Someone being brought in is considered a prisoner. A prisoner is not in custody of the sheriff, but is a prisoner and the responsibility of the agency that arrested him or her until they are booked into jail. Therefore, there isn’t an ethical issue because someone arrested on DWI is not yet an inmate. Furthermore, Cawthorn explained a warrant relieves the department of any ethical issue because it’s issued from a judged, and the department is then acting upon a court order.
“A collection of blood is evidence. This has nothing to do with medical practice,” said Cawthorn. He says the sheriff has jurisdiction over collecting evidence, and the sheriff has jurisdiction over the jail medical staff because they are employed under him.
“We’re asking them to draw blood from an officer, and put it in a tube, and give it to the officer to take back to his department to have it analyzed. We’re not asking them to do anything more than what nurses do, and that is to draw blood,” said Cawthorn.
Cawthorn says every agency has a shortage of man power, and waiting on a blood draw especially hurts man power. So, by conducting blood draws at the jail, officers are freed up to continue doing their jobs.