State law, K-State policy protect students from real dangers on Fake Patty’s Day

An ambulance rushes down Denison Road with its sirens on in Manhattan, Kan. on Feb. 26, 2017. (Archive Photo by John Benfer | Collegian Media Group)

With Fake Patty’s Day around the corner, the Riley County Police Department and other institutions have provided online information to help ensure the safety of those partaking in the “fake” holiday. One law provides medical immunity, or medical amnesty, to people suffering from alcohol poisoning.

According to the state legislature’s website, former governor Sam Brownback signed SB 133, the amendment to Kansas’ law on minors in possession and consumption of alcohol, on Feb. 23, 2016. SB 133 grants minors in possession or consumption immunity from prosecution if they request medical assistance.

To be granted legal immunity for assisting a person in medical need, Hali Rowland, public information officer for the RCPD, said “they have to be seeking law enforcement or emergency medical services for a person who reasonably appeared to be in need of medical assistance.”

The state law also specifies that, in addition to contacting medical services or police officers, bystanders seeking help must also cooperate with EMS or police, “[provide] their full name, the name of one or two other persons acting in concert with such person … and any other relevant information requested” and stay with the person in medical need until help arrives.

The state law was built on K-State’s own medical immunity policy, Lifeline 911, which operates in a similar way, said Andy Thompson, director of community standards and assistant dean for student life.

“What the policy states is that on a first-time incident where a student has had too much to drink, and that student comes to ask for help, whether that’s from a housing staff member or they call the police, or a friend says ‘Hey, my friend’s had too much to drink, I’m worried about their health and safety,’ — if it’s done in that light, it falls under the Lifeline 911 policy,” Thompson said.

However, an incident does not qualify for Lifeline 911 immunity if the call is initiated by a resident assistant.

“It’s not Lifeline 911 if a student is passed out in the stall of a residence hall bathroom and an RA that’s on duty rounds stumbles upon that … it is if your friend calls,” Thompson said.

Lifeline 911 takes the extra step to ensure the university will not punish a student for misconduct if their situation falls under medical immunity. After a Lifeline 911 case, Thompson said students living in on-campus housing have to meet with a Housing and Dining staff member to discuss alcohol usage. K-State is only notified of Lifeline 911 situations by the police if it concerns a student who lives on campus.

Thompson said the number one priority with this policy is students’ safety.

When gauging whether or not an intoxicated person needs medical assistance, Jean DeDonder, director of alcohol and other drugs at Lafene Health Center, said consider the question, “Are they drunk, or are they dying?”

“I know that’s very blunt, however, it is what it is — you make the call,” DeDonder said.

DeDonder said the signs of alcohol poisoning include the inability to wake up, a vague awareness of surroundings, vomiting while “sleeping” or passed out, slow breathing, irregular breathing, bluish skin color, low body temperature and seizures.

“If they’re starting to have these symptoms, they’re starting to be in trouble, and you’re not going to reverse it by giving them coffee … [or] giving them time to sleep it off,” DeDonder said.

DeDonder stressed that students should not wait to get help for fear of prosecution.

“They’re not out to get you,” DeDonder said. “Call, and make sure that they’re safe, or you’re safe.”

University students will not have any sanctions if they cooperate within the Lifeline 911 policy, DeDonder added.

For students who report or fall victim to other crimes, such as sexual assault, in an instance where they are drinking underage, there is some immunity to be offered as well. Under K-State’s policy on discrimination and sexual violence, the “use of alcohol or other drugs by a perpetrator or victim does not excuse acts of sexual violence.”

“We don’t want a student who may have been sexually assaulted at a party or saw something happen, then be brought through the code for an alcohol violation; we’re trying to resolve the larger matter,” Thompson said.

Rowland said there are no other types of legal amnesty under Kansas law to her knowledge.

“We always encourage victims and witnesses of crimes to report it immediately, if possible,” Rowland said. “Officers take into account the entire situation and can determine the best course of action to take within the constraints of the law.”

For more information about medical immunity for minors in consumption who seek medical assistance, consult the Kansas SB 133 law and K-State’s Lifeline 911 policy online.