Patient arrested at Canadian hospital released from King County Jail

October 13, 2005

Gene Johnson, Associated Press

An American medical-marijuana advocate who says he was arrested at a Canadian hospital while waiting to be admitted for prostate surgery, turned over to U.S. authorities and held for several days without having his catheter removed was released from a Seattle jail to seek medical care Thursday.

"The whole time I was in jail, they put a blood-pressure cuff on me. That was all," Steven William Tuck, crying and shaking, said after his release.

His lawyer, Douglas Hiatt, and the president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sunil Aggarwal, brought him to Harborview Medical Center, where he was being evaluated in the emergency room Thursday night.

"The doctors are appalled at the condition he's in," Hiatt said.

Canadian Border Services agents took Tuck, who fled from California to British Columbia in 2001 to avoid prosecution on charges of growing and distributing marijuana, from an admitting-room gurney at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver on Friday, he and a witness told The Associated Press. Tuck's bid for asylum in Canada had failed, but he said he was trying to appeal the decision.

The agents drove him to the border, where he was turned over to U.S. officials. After a night in the Whatcom County Jail, he was brought to the King County Jail, where he was held to face a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue ordered him released so he could go to the hospital, on the condition that when his treatment was over, he return to California to face the federal charge.

But Tuck wasn't immediately released, because jail officials had received a detention request from the Humboldt County, Calif., District Attorney's Office, which wanted to make sure he did not flee before being tried on the original marijuana charges. The DA's office agreed late Thursday to drop the detention request, clearing the way for Tuck's release.

Looking gaunt in a gray suit, he stood outside the jail and teared up as he spoke to his wife on a cell phone. In his Kentucky accent, he said, "I don't know, baby. My prostrate's so swole'd up and hurtin', but tell everybody I'm OK, OK? Will you tell my dad?"

He believes he has a urinary infection from the catheter.

"I'm not scared of getting in trouble," he said. "But I am scared of losing a body part."

Tuck said he has used morphine - with a doctor's prescription - and marijuana for nearly two decades to deal with pain stemming from a 1987 parachute accident in the Army, as well as a 1990 car accident. Those injuries have required more than a dozen surgeries over the years. He said he spent more than a year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after his parachute failed to open properly.

In jail, he had access to no pain medicine except ibuprofen, and said he suffered severe withdrawal from the morphine.

For privacy reasons, Jail Capt. Roberta Johnson declined to comment on the treatment Tuck received, but she noted the jail has health staff on duty 24 hours a day.

King County Executive Ron Sims said Thursday he was unaware of Tuck's case, but that he would expect a prisoner who came into the jail with a catheter to have it examined and removed or changed as necessary.

A Canadian Border Services Agency spokeswoman in Vancouver said she could not specifically discuss Tuck's arrest, but that agents always obtain a doctor's permission before deporting someone with an obvious medical condition.

"We're not doctors. We rely on doctors and their advice about whether someone is OK to be removed," said the spokeswoman, Janis Fergusson.

Tuck said the agents did follow that procedure.

"They went in there doctor-shopping 'til they found a doctor who said I could go," Tuck said. "I saw them go around to three or four doctors asking them."

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