by Carolyn Bick
Kel Murphy-Duford — the 30-year-old man who had been unconscious and on a ventilator at Harborview Medical Center, following his arrest on the evening of Nov. 4 — now appears to be awake and is recuperating. He has since been discharged from the hospital, according to Harborview’s media department.
Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers originally arrested Murphy-Duford on the evening of Nov. 4, claiming he was engaging in property damage. During his arrest, Murphy-Duford apparently suffered a medical emergency that rendered him unconscious, but it is unclear what triggered the emergency. Emergency personnel allegedly said that the man had a seizure. He was subsequently taken to Harborview, where he remained unconscious on a ventilator for several days.
In a brief post shared on the afternoon of Nov. 7 on the GoFundMe page set up for him, Murphy-Duford said that SPD was withholding his insulin delivery system until Nov. 10. Murphy-Duford is diabetic, as his lawyers shared in an email forwarded to the Emerald on the evening of Nov. 6. Murphy-Duford’s post on the GoFundMe page did not specify why SPD is withholding his medical property or how he was getting his insulin.
SPD PIO Sgt. Randall Huserik said in an email to the Emerald on the afternoon of Nov. 9 that “[a]ccording to information from our Force Investigation Team, he had an insulin monitoring implant which relays insulin levels to a device that looks like a cellphone.”
“Officers thought it was his cellphone so they put it in his personal property. They also found what they thought was a pen but it turned out to be something like an epi pen which we assume delivers insulin,” Huserik’s email read. “All items were put into the subjects property and he is free to pick it up anytime from the SPD Evidence Unit. At no time was any medication withheld from Murphy-Duford by the Seattle Police Department.”
SPD’s Evidence Unit is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., due to the current novel coronavirus pandemic, so Murphy-Duford cannot pick up his property “anytime.” The Emerald touched on recent evidence reclamation problems in this story.
In the brief update, Murphy-Duford also said that he feels as though he “got hit by a truck, but I’m definitely alive!” The message concludes with a note of gratitude and Murphy-Duford said that he will update everyone about his condition soon.
As the Emerald noted in its original story about Murphy-Duford’s arrest, it is unclear from the videos originally circulating on Twitter and Twitch, and the later body camera video released by the SPD, what if anything Murphy-Duford was doing to warrant arrest. It is also unclear how or why he started having a seizure, because — again, as the Emerald reported — he has no history of seizures.
In its first SPD Blotter post on the incident, SPD originally claimed that Murphy-Duford suffered some sort of unidentified medical emergency. Later, it updated the post to claim that Murphy-Duford’s condition — unconscious and intubated at Harborview — was due to a substance he had “ingested prior to police contact.”
One of Murphy-Duford’s attorneys, Karen Koehler, of Stritmatter, called that claim “libelous,” and said that no one had released any medical information to the SPD — including Harborview doctors, as doing so would be a violation of the United States’ medical privacy laws.
“Since Kel is currently intubated and unconscious he has certainly not given his doctors permission to speak to SPD. Nor has his husband,” Koehler’s statement from Nov. 6 reads.
In his Nov. 9 email to the Emerald, Huserik said that “[t]he information we received about Murphy-Duford being under the influence of a substance was obtained through the PIO at Harborview Medical Center.”
However, Harborview Medical Center’s Media Relations Director Susan Gregg told the Emerald in a subsequent email that “the only information I have released throughout was the condition of the patient. You will need to contact with SPD pertaining to their investigation and information they provided. Note as well that this patient has been discharged from Harborview.”
When the Emerald asked about this, Huserik said that “[w]e stand by our post, and the source of the information.”
When the Emerald asked whether that source was Gregg, and whether SPD could show the Emerald an email proving the information came from Harborview’s media team, Huserik replied, “I’m not going to get into a back and forth over this. We stand by our post.”
Gregg once again denied this in an email to the Emerald, and when asked whether someone else at Harborview could have given SPD the information, she simply replied, “No.”
Additionally, one of Murphy-Duford’s lawyers, Sarah Lippek, of Cedar Law, told the Emerald in a text message that she had spoken with the lead Force Investigation Team (FIT) investigator, Det. Brit Kelly, “and she said she had no idea where that information came from, and that it is not something she found during her investigation.”
“There was no release made of medical information, and Det. Kelly … told me she had not gotten any such information and don’t know where it might have come from. Even though SPD Blotter attributes it to FIT,” Lippek said.
Lippek also said she sent SPD’s legal team a defamation takedown notice, regarding the allegation that Murphy-Duford had “ingested” something that caused his condition.
In an open letter sent to the Emerald on the evening of Nov. 9, Murphy-Duford’s mother Kim Murphy expressed gratitude for everyone who had shown support for her son.
“Raising Kel is one of my proudest achievements in life. He is empathetic, idealistic and passionate about the movement to bring about social justice in his community,” Murphy’s letter reads. “Believe me, I tried to convince him to stay home in the days immediately following the election. … Kel is more concerned about people who have been marginalized and discriminated against for far too long in this country.”
After initial publication on Nov. 6, the Emerald reached out to the Mayor’s Office and the Seattle City Council for comment, but has yet to hear back from anyone with an official statement.
Featured image is a screengrab from the body camera portion of the video compilation of the Nov. 4 arrest that SPD released on Nov. 5.