Harold McMillan is considered a gentle soul by those who know him, which is why it was out of character for him to drop the f-bomb in an exchange with a Memorial Hermann hospital guest-relations employee last week -- a poor choice of wording that, he says, resulted in him being forced face-first to the floor and arrested by a Houston police officer.
McMillan, the founder of the Austin nonprofit DiverseArts Culture Works, says he was at Memorial Hermann's Texas Medical Center location to retrieve the wallet of his brother, who had died of a heart attack a week earlier.
McMillan says he had spoken with someone at the hospital's guest services department, who told him that he could retrieve his brother's wallet at a security checkpoint near the emergency room, and that they'd have all the necessary paperwork. McMillan says he was told he could pick up the wallet any time -- the area was staffed around the clock.
But McMillan says it didn't quite go as smoothly as he had planned: He says he first spoke to security guards who couldn't find any documentation relating to his brother, so McMillan asked to speak with a supervisor. He says the supervisor told him, "We found his stuff but we're not authorized to give it to you."
McMillan suggested calling the woman in guest services he had previously spoken with, or someone else from that department.
"At that point, he started chastising me about my bad attitude," McMillan tells Hair Balls. He says the supervisor was "very disrespectfully talking down to me," and saying that he had no way of knowing if McMillan was authorized to take the wallet.
After some back and forth, which McMillan says involved him repeatedly asking to speak to the supervisor's supervisor, and the supervisor getting more frustrated that McMillan was questioning his authority and job abilities, McMillan was so perturbed that he said, "Why don't you stop acting like a fucking cop, and just let me talk to the supervisor."
Well, that did it.
The next thing that happened, according to McMillan, was that a few uniformed security guards and a Houston police officer emerged from behind the checkpoint door, with the officer telling McMillan, "We need to talk to you back here."
That's when McMillan apparently made Mistake Number Two: he asked the officer, "Can you just tell me why you need to talk to me?"
Well, that did it.
"The next thing I know, he's got his arms...through my arms and my back...and I'm up off the ground," McMillan says. The cop, per McMillan, walked him through the door, admonishing him not to "resist," and then, "the next thing I know, he slammed me to the floor, face first."
McMillan says that, while he was asking the officer if he was under arrest, and what the charge might be, the supervisor told him that this probably wouldn't have happened if McMillan didn't have a bad attitude. He also suggested that it may have turned out totally different, McMillan says, if McMillan had been wearing a suit, or at least a shirt and tie, instead of his cargo shorts and flip-flops.
McMillan was escorted to jail and charged with "interference with public duties," a misdemeanor. Specifically, the charging document reads that McMillan interfered with the officer's duty by "refusing to follow verbal commands, pulling his hands away, and refusing to put his hands behind his back."
Alex Rodriguez, Memorial Hermann's director of communications, says she was not aware of the details of the exchange between McMillan and the hospital employee. "The situation escalated and HPD was called," she says. When told about the alleged remark about how McMillan was dressed, Rodriguez expressed dismay and told us, "I can't imagine that would ever happen." We asked if we could speak with the employee, and she said she'd ask him. (Commence breath-holding).
McMillan's niece, LaTonya Barnes, says she encountered a similar attitude when she went to retrieve the wallet -- and bail her uncle out -- the next day. Barnes says she first spoke with the very same guest relations employee before she went to the hospital; the woman assured Barnes everything was in order.
Unfortunately, Barnes says, when she got to the security area and gave her deceased father's name, the employees had no idea who she was talking about. She says they asked if he had been taken to the hospital by ambulance or LifeFlight. Barnes mistakenly said the former, but they still couldn't find anything. So, Barnes says, they asked her where her father was now.
"Well, he's dead and in the ground now," Barnes explained.
As it turns out, it really does seem to be Barnes's fault: see, when a patient is brought in by helicopter, they're assigned a different ID code than if they're brought in another way -- or at least that's what Barnes was told. All Barnes had was her father's name, and an assurance from the same person who previously told her uncle that all the paperwork was taken care of, when what she really needed was the hospital's internal coding system. How utterly ridiculous of Barnes, right?
And how utterly ridiculous of a guy who just lost his brother to show an inkling of frustration when dealing with a bureaucracy. It really is a crime for hospital security-booth supervisors to have to put up with any sort of questioning or annoyed utterances from grieving people who are trying to collect their loved ones' belongings. Poor guys.
UPDATE: An HPD spokesman tells Hair Balls that, according to the arrest report, McMillan used "abusive language" toward both the hospital employee and the officer. "We are aware of the incident," Victor Senties says. He added that McMillan has not filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs Division, and that complaint forms are available on the Department's website, or can be made in person or through advocacy groups such as LULAC and NAACP.
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