When Alfredo Contreras Gonzalez leapt out of a fourth-floor courthouse window in the spring of 2006, he probably had no idea he would spark a legal battle to determine who would pay for his medical care.
The Kansas University Hospital Authority is suing two governmental entities in an effort to recoup more than $138,000 in costs incurred from treating Gonzalez, who is also known by several aliases.
Gonzalez, according to a complaint filed in federal court by KU Hospital, leapt out of a fourth-floor window in the Wabaunsee County Courthouse in April 2006.
The complaint alleges that Gonzalez used a chair to break a window in a room at the county sheriff’s office, where he was being held in preparation for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest him.
Then, fearing arrest and deportation, he jumped out of the window, “ostensibly for some nearby trees,” and sustained severe injuries after his four-story fall, according to the complaint.
After being transported to KU Hospital, he was treated for 22 days, while being held on a “police hold” from ICE, according to the complaint. The hold required the hospital to turn Gonzalez over to ICE authorities after being released from the hospital, which was done, the complaint said.
Kansas law allows hospitals to bill agencies for the treatment of people injured while in their custody, said Dennis McCulloch, a KU Hospital spokesman.
“Basically, a patient in custody of law enforcement was transferred here to receive treatment,” McCulloch said. “And our position is that we need a fair rate to get paid by whoever the law determines had care and custody of the patient.”
McCulloch said that ICE and the Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Department disagree on whose custody Gonzalez was in at the time. In those cases, he said, the hospital has no jurisdiction to decide, and must turn to the courts. The federal complaint seeks damages from ICE.
Wabaunsee County Attorney Norbert Marek said KU also had filed a separate case in Wabaunsee County District Court seeking damages from the Wabaunsee County Board of County Commissioners.
He said the county disputed some of the allegations in the hospital’s filing.
The Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Department had arrested Gonzalez on a Shawnee County warrant in March. In April, Gonzalez came back to the sheriff’s office to retrieve some personal belongings after being released on bond in Shawnee County, Marek said.
Contrary to facts listed in the hospital’s filing, Marek said that the county contends the room where Gonzalez was sitting was unlocked and he was free to go at any time.
“It is our position that he was not in custody of Wabaunsee County at any time that day,” Marek said.
Marek said the exact details would likely come out in sworn depositions taken from the people who were actually there.
He said one key element in the case could be the status of an ICE hold that had been placed on Gonzalez, and when or whether that was ever lifted.
An ICE spokesman said that officials there would have no comment on the case, citing pending litigation.
The case will likely ultimately come down to a legal determination of who — if anyone — had custody of Gonzalez on that day, Marek said.
“I guess that is the $64,000 question,” he said. “Or, in this case, the $138,000 question.”