Home Top News Police search cancer patient’s hospital room for marijuana; video sparks backlash

Police search cancer patient’s hospital room for marijuana; video sparks backlash

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Editor’s note: This report has been updated with comment from the Bolivar Police Department and the family of Nolan Sousley and corrects an erroneous count of the number of Bolivar police officers present in Sousley’s hospital room.

A Facebook Live video posted late Wednesday night went viral this week after depicting two Bolivar police officers searching the bags of a Citizens Memorial Healthcare patient for marijuana.

In the video, and in comments to the News-Leader, the patient and his family said Nolan Sousley is a stage 4 pancreatic cancer patient.

On social media, Sousley said he was diagnosed in May 2018 and that he takes cannabis to manage his pain as he approaches the end of his life.

Sousley’s son Tylor Sousley told the News-Leader Friday morning that his father lives in Versailles and receives treatment at the Bolivar hospital.

On Saturday, Sousley’s partner of six years, Amber Kidwell, told the News-Leader that Sousley recently took a pause from chemotherapy because it was not working. He had been in the hospital since Tuesday following episodes of very high fever, blood pressure issues and a seizure, she said. 

The video shows two Bolivar police officers and an officer whom Kidwell described as a CMH security guard, present in Sousley’s hospital room. Police are shown searching Sousley’s bags. Sousley refuses to let them search one of his bags.

“It has my final day things in there,” Sousley says on the video, “and nobody’s going to dig in it. It’s my stuff, it’s my final hour stuff is in that bag. It’s my right to have my final — I’m not digging it down here in front of everybody.”

When a woman whom Sousley refers to as a physician enters the room, one officer tells her, “We got a call saying there’s marijuana in the room.”

Off camera, a person whom Kidwell described as a hospital security officer then says, “I smelled marijuana whenever I walked in the room.”

Sousley bristles at the allegation, saying, “And there is no way they could smell it, doc, because I don’t smoke it, I don’t ever use a ground-up plant. It’s an oil I use in a capsule, there’s no smoking it. I take it like a pill.”

Earlier in the video, Sousley admits to consuming something “in the parking lot.”

On Saturday, Kidwell said that earlier the day of the incident, she and Sousley had been out in the parking lot. She said she smoked a tobacco cigarette and Sousley smoked a Blackstone vanilla tobacco cigar.

They were aware this was against policy at CMH, she said, which has signs indicating it’s a smoke-free campus. While the two were outdoors smoking and Skyping with Nolan’s 9-year-old son, Kidwell said a security guard in a vehicle approached them on the hospital parking lot and asked them if everything was OK.

On the video, a man identified by Sousley as Tim Roberts — whom Kidwell said is a lifelong friend of Sousley’s who also grew up in Versailles — tells officers, “What he’s using manages his appetite, his weight loss, his nausea.”

In a brief argument with Sousley captured on the video, the officers say they did not plan to take him to jail, but they would issue a citation if they found marijuana in his bags.

Kidwell told the News-Leader three days after the video was posted that the security officer employed by the hospital was the only person to allege that Sousley’s room smelled like marijuana.

Bolivar police officers did not make any claims about marijuana odor while they were in the room, Kidwell told the News-Leader Saturday morning.

Kidwell said that the security guard and a nurse indicated that “complaints” of marijuana odor prompted them to confront the family and call police. Kidwell did not know who made the complaints and said she did not notice many people going in or out of neighboring patient rooms.

On the video, Sousley argues with officers that “Medically in Missouri (marijuana is) really legal now. They just haven’t finished the paperwork.”

But Missouri will not be taking any applications for cannabis patient ID cards until July 4. State officials recently posted a notice that Missouri physicians may not write certifications for patient medical marijuana until June 4.

Kidwell said that the video does not capture a conversation that took place after Sousley stopped filming.

The family asked if everyone could leave the room with the exception of one of the police officers, whom Kidwell described as “very respectful.” They allowed him to search the “final day” bag, finding no marijuana. She said officers had refused to leave the room when the physician shown on the video wanted to discuss Nolan’s health condition, following a comment by Nolan that he wanted to leave the hospital.

Sousley had CBD oil with him at the time the video was filmed, Kidwell confirmed.

On Facebook and YouTube, the video had been seen about 520,000 times as of midday Saturday. With the YouTube post, a comment attributed to Sousley states that police “found no marijuana. Only CBD which is legal in Missouri.”

In a follow-up Facebook post made after the video, Sousley said he had been contacted by many people, including attorneys and cannabis companies.

Kidwell said that Sousley got out of the hospital Thursday. Since then, he has felt overwhelmed and tired from all the attention following the incident. She declined to comment on whether Sousley would take legal action against CMH or Bolivar police.

“We’ve had an outpouring of people reaching out for support and love,” Kidwell said, “and through this we’ve had a lot of people reach out — sorry, this is gonna make me emotional — a lot of people have reached out who have cancer also, and hearing their stories has been really important for us. When you get an outreach and outpouring of people telling you their story also…. for us, this is a terminally ill patient who should have the right to choose (their own treatment).”

She added, “Terminally ill patients should have the right to choose their treatment plan above the spectrum of what the government deems appropriate to increase their quality of life.”

Kidwell also said Sousley has been very happy with treatment from his Bolivar-based oncologist, Leo Shunyakov, who is not shown in the viral video.

Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb told the News-Leader Friday afternoon that no marijuana was found with Sousley in the hospital room Wednesday night and that his officers issued no citations.

He said officers were dispatched following a 911 call that came in from Citizens Memorial Healthcare.

“Some of their security officers had detected or smelled marijuana coming from a patient room,” Webb said. “Officers arrived to basically check the validity of that, and it was late and they were filming.”

Like Kidwell, Webb said more events took place during the incident than were shown on Facebook Live, which were recorded on officer body cameras, but he declined to be more specific.

“I don’t know that they did anything,” he said. “Making contact, looked through some bags and left.”

Webb said the public response to the Facebook video has been considerable.

“I was a cop a long time before we had social media,” he told the News-Leader, citing his almost 40-year career in law enforcement. “I’ve got my staff in tears. People are calling and actually making threats against police.”

Tylor Sousley said the Bolivar Police Department had taken down its Facebook page after the video was posted, and the News-Leader was not able to discover a page for the department during a search Friday morning.

Webb said the page “was getting too overloaded and we quit taking responses. We’re looking for other ways to give their information.”

Webb said that in terms of looking at medical marijuana as a law enforcement matter, he’s waiting for regulations and guidance from the state executive branch.

Citizens Memorial Healthcare declined to confirm any details about the incident but emailed the News-Leader the following statement.

“Unfortunately, due to HIPAA (federal privacy law), we are unable to comment about any specific patient, their treatment or what was done or not done in any particular situation.  Generally speaking, it is against the Hospital’s policy to smoke or vape on the Hospital’s campus. It is also our policy to call appropriate law enforcement any time Hospital personnel see or reasonably suspect illegal drug use in patient rooms or otherwise on campus.”

Missouri voters overwhelmingly chose to create a medical cannabis system last November, with more than 65 percent of the vote going toward a constitutional amendment setting up the system.

The Sousley video was discussed Thursday night at a public forum where citizens provided input about medical marijuana for state officials as they write rules to set up the program, which is scheduled to be fully operational in early 2020.

Cancer is the first of several health conditions enumerated in the text of the amendment that would qualify a sick person for a medical marijuana certification from a physician.

More on Missouri medical cannabis:

Missouri just posted rules for medical marijuana patient cards. Here’s the FAQ.

Attendees urge state to be lenient during Springfield medical marijuana forum

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