UPDATE: Internal investigation next for acquitted Woodbury officer
By Tom Olsen (Lake County News-Chronicle) and Mike Longaecker
A Lake County jury found a Woodbury police officer not guilty Monday of assaulting a nurse in Two Harbors as the officer removed her partner from the hospital against the advice of doctors.
After two hours of deliberation, the four men and two women on the jury found Vickie Braman, 51, of Richfield, not guilty of charges of fifth degree assault and disorderly conduct Monday evening.
The case stems from an Aug. 30, 2011, incident at the hospital in which Braman was cited for allegedly putting her hands around a nurse’s neck and shoving her. The nurse at the time was attempting to remove an IV tube from Braman’s life partner, who had left the hospital against medical advice.
Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague said the department will now launch an internal “administrative investigation” into Braman now that the criminal trial has concluded. He lauded the highly decorated 17-year department veteran’s work.
“(Braman) is a good cop,” Vague said. “She’s very compassionate.”
According to city records, Braman has received 23 separate “Pat on the Back” awards for exemplary work as an officer. She has also received three “Letters of Superior Performance” for call responses and project work in addition to two “Letters of Outstanding Achievement” since beginning her work here in July 1996.
The department has never taken disciplinary action against Braman, records show.
Braman was briefly reassigned during an internal fact-finding effort launched after the 2011 incident but was returned to the street shortly after, Vague said. She later received an unrelated injury on the job that has since relegated her to office duty, he added.
Vague said Braman will remain an active duty officer during the investigation, which he said will be thorough, if not quick.
“It’s important to us to fully investigate any allegations of misconduct against our officers,” he said. “I’m more concerned with it being done right than being done quickly.”
The jury determined that there was not enough evidence to support allegations that Braman intended to inflict bodily harm on the nurse or incite fear.
Minneapolis-based defense attorney Fred Bruno characterized Braman as a lifelong caregiver who was just trying to get her partner the care she needed.
“You have to ask yourself, are you going to criminalize a career helper who was just trying to do the right thing? Is that how you’re going to reward her?” Bruno asked the jury in his final argument. “To convict Ms. Braman of either charge would be a miscarriage of justice for a lifelong caretaker and law enforcement officer.”
The fact that Braman shoved nurse Brenda Clark was not in dispute. At issue was whether Braman acted in self-defense or took the law into her own hands.
Braman’s partner, Janna Gilbertson of Two Harbors, testified that she called Braman at 6:30 p.m. the night of the incident, telling her that she was in excruciating pain and believing that she was going to die. It turned out that she was suffering from a post-surgical infection, a curable condition resulting from a previous operation.
Gilbertson admitted herself to Lake View Hospital, but Braman wanted her to receive care at St. Luke’s in Duluth. Phone records show that over the next three hours, Braman made over 40 phone calls, mostly to Gilbertson, the hospital and 911.
Braman demanded that an ambulance transport Gilbertson to St. Luke’s, but a doctor who examined Gilbertson denied the request, instead deciding that she could be treated in Two Harbors.
Gilbertson signed a release form, against the advice of staff, and Braman wheeled her out to her vehicle to transport her to St. Luke’s. Braman leaned Gilbertson up against her vehicle while she removed some items from the front seat, at which time nurse Brenda Clark came to remove her IV.
When Braman noticed Clark, she grabbed her around the neck with both arms and shoved her, the prosecution told jurors. Police were called to the scene and an ambulance later transported Gilbertson to St. Luke’s. Clark did not press charges.
Braman acted as anybody who worried for safety of a loved one would in a crisis, Bruno argued. He criticized the hospital staff for failing to administer proper medical care or transport her as Braman had requested.
Lake County Assistant Attorney Lisa Hanson contended that Braman acted irrationally and irresponsibly throughout the ordeal. Braman disregarded all of her professional training, built up three hours of rage as she drove from the Twin Cities to Two Harbors and took it out on Lake View Hospital staff when she arrived, Hanson told the jury.
She claimed Braman attempted to intimidate hospital staff and an emergency dispatcher by repeatedly identifying herself as a police officer and paramedic over the phone. She attempted to influence medical decisions from afar and badgered hospital staff for sensitive information that could not be released over the phone, Hanson told jurors.
When Braman arrived at the hospital, she burst through the front door, past the reception desk and into the emergency room, ignoring signs that stated “authorized personnel only” and creating a ruckus among other patients, Hanson said. She acted recklessly in attacking Clark, who was only trying to help, she said.
Gilbertson received the care she required and the situation did not warrant Braman’s extreme actions, Hanson told jurors.
“There was no emergency,” Hanson said in her final argument. “The only emergency was in her own mind.”
Despite the charges, Hanson called Braman a good person, saying she made a series of bad decisions based on devotion to her partner. But, before finishing her argument, Hanson told the jury they must find Braman guilty based on facts and evidence, and not allow sympathy, bias, passion or prejudice to weigh into the decision.
Bruno, however, told the jury that they must put themselves in Braman’s shoes and consider what they would do. Braman, in a hurry to get Gilbertson to St. Luke’s and upset with the treatment of her partner, reacted instinctually when she pushed Clark, he said.
“Where was the level of care?” he asked. “Ms. Braman acted as you or I or anyone would act when facing a crisis involving a loved one.”