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Angry Words Lead to Big Bill

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It's never a good idea to call people names, a lesson Joey Dement has had to learn the hard way — to the tune of $1,600.

Dement, a 28-year-old history student at Virginia Commonwealth University, was riding his bike to a party at Second and Main streets May 29. Richmond Police had arrived before him, setting off a pepper-spray fogger in the crowded second-floor apartment while the party was in full swing.

Police and partygoers had spilled outside in a chaotic scene, fighting with each other. Dement says it was difficult to breathe because of the pepper spray. From his bike, he watched one of his friends being arrested. He thought police were going overboard, and it made him furious. He shouted at an officer, calling him a rookie.

The officer shouted back, Dement says. "He called me bald, and I called him fat." Dement rode off. Police followed him in two cars to Second and Broad streets, where, Dement says, "they tackled me off the bike."

His head hit the pavement and he was visibly scraped up. Police took him to VCU's Medical College of Virginia Hospital.

Dement says police told him a hospital visit was mandatory, although he could refuse medical treatment. Nurses encouraged him to get checked out, he says, and he assumed the city would cover his bills.

"I said, 'Since it's on the city, I guess I should get checked out,'" Dement recalls, "and [the police] said, 'Yeah, OK.'"

Dement underwent a CAT scan, and headed home. Two months later, MCV called, asking how he planned to pay his bill. He hasn't paid it, and collection agencies have been dogging him since. "My credit is ruined," he says.

Should the city pay? That depends. According to Richmond Police operating procedures, "If a subject, as the result of a use of force, requires medical attention (even if they refuse treatment)," police must take the person to the hospital.

"If [the patient] is in legal custody, then the police pay for it," says Niane Szalwinski, director of hospital patient accounting for MCV Hospitals. But if the officers don't arrest the patient until he or she is discharged, the police don't have to pay.

It's unclear whether Dement was ever in legal custody. Although he was served a summons and charged with disorderly conduct — charges that eventually were dropped — it is not clear from police and court documents that he was arrested.

Dement has hired attorney Steven D. Benjamin to sort things out. "The RPD should and must pay for the injury they caused," Benjamin says.

A spokeswoman for the city said the city attorney was not available for comment by press time.

"I know I was pretty much in the wrong by just opening my mouth in the first place," Dement says. "But I didn't figure it would be anything like the insanity that happened." — Amy Biegelsen

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