Updated at 5 p.m. to include statement from Citizens Memorial Hospital.
A Missouri man and cancer patient, who found himself at the center of a whirlwind of controversy after his Facebook live video of a police search in his hospital room went viral, is calling for civility.
In a news release Saturday afternoon, March 9, provided to the BH-FP by attorney Ray E. Sousley, Nolan Sousley — who says he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was recently a patient at Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar — is hoping to head off a storm of negative response flooding the City of Bolivar and the Bolivar Police Department.
“I do not blame the town of Bolivar,” Nolan Sousley said in the release. “I do not blame the Bolivar Police Department for what happened.”
He added that “we are all human beings … please treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”
“It is my desire that this entire situation be used for good — politicians should stop trying to limit our right to use cannabis and its derivatives,” Nolan Sousley said. “There are many issues that are demanding the attention of politicians. This is not one of them.”
In the release, Nolan Sousley said he hopes “CMH and the City of Bolivar will train officers to treat everyone with whom they interact with respect and refrain from treating people as if they all belong in jail, regardless of economic status, race, culture, religion.”
Ray Sousley said via email Saturday that he and his client hope to “help alleviate some of the negative communication that has been reportedly coming in to the Bolivar Police Department and the City of Bolivar.”
Saying Bolivar is a “beautiful community” with “some wonderful citizens,” Ray Sousley said he and Nolan Sousley “do not condone any type of harassment or threats against anyone connected to the hospital, the city or the police department.”
Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb previously told the BH-FP the department shut down its Facebook page after the department was “inundated by negative feedback.”
Webb also said the department’s phone line was overrun with callers from across the country waging complaints, making it impossible for staff to keep up with the volume of calls.
Bolivar Mayor Chris Warwick said Saturday that other city social media pages, websites and phone lines are now facing a flood of negative — and sometimes threatening — responses to the video.
Even Polk County’s central dispatch is feeling the effects of the controversy.
E-911 Director Sarah Newell said Saturday the county’s non-emergency phone line has been overwhelmed with callers “cussing, screaming, saying awful things.”
“I’m having to have extra staff (on the phones) to deal with the call volume,” Newell said.
In the release, which relates his account of the events that sparked worldwide news coverage and outrage, Nolan Sousley said the situation was the “result of an overzealous security guard, who made a baseless allegation for whatever reason.”
As previously reported in the BH-FP, Nolan Sousley said he was lying in bed, ready to sleep, when a CMH security guard entered his patient room, saying he smelled marijuana.
In a phone conversation Friday morning, Nolan Sousley, who lives in Versailles, said he was “highly medicated at the time it all happened.”
“I hadn’t slept for days,” he said. “As a terminal patient, you always ask, ‘Is this the time I’ll fall asleep and not wake up?’ It makes it hard to sleep.”
The release said the CMH security guard refused to leave the room when Nolan Sousley told him there was no marijuana and denied the guard’s request to search his belongings.
Nolan Sousley said the security officer then called the Bolivar Police Department.
Upon the arrival of two officers, both Sousley and his fiancee, Amber Kidwell, said Kidwell gave officers consent to search her bags. The release said one of Nolan Sousley’s bags was also searched without consent.
“I told them no on my bag,” Nolan Sousley said in a phone interview Friday, referring to a separate medicine bag in his possession during the encounter.
“After a lengthy discussion with the police officers, my doctor, my fiancee and a lifelong friend who lives in Bolivar, I decided to allow one officer, who had been calm and respectful, to look in my medicine bag,” Nolan Sousley said in the release. “I had previously refused the request even though I knew there was nothing in that bag that would confirm the security guard’s allegations.”
The release said the officer, with Nolan Sousley’s assistance “due to the prescription drugs in the bag,” searched it and confirmed there was no marijuana in the bag.
Webb confirmed officers responded to a call for service Thursday night at CMH for possible marijuana in a patient room.
“Officers received consent for a search of the room, and nothing was found,” Webb said.
He said officers did not find marijuana in the room, and no citations were issued.
While supervisors will pull body camera footage to review the incident, Webb said “no one’s being fired, and we have no plans to start an internal affairs investigation.”
In the viral video, Sousley tells officers he left his room and took THC oil pills on the CMH parking lot, and both Sousley and Kidwell said they walked to the parking lot around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 5.
“I did take a couple puffs of a cigar — Swisher Sweets,” Sousley said.
Kidwell said the security officer made contact with them while they were on the parking lot smoking.
“He asked if everything was OK,” she said.
CMH released a statement Thursday saying it’s against CMH’s policy to smoke or vape on the hospital’s campus.
“Prior to this, my stay at CMH had proven that the staff, nurses, aides, doctors, techs, were the best,” Nolan Sousley said in the release. “I could not have been treated better prior to the intrusion of the security guard.”
In a statement released Saturday evening, in response to Nolan Sousley's release, CMH apologized for its role in the incident.
"Respect is a part of our core values," the statement said. "Our actions in this recent event did not reflect who we are as an organization. We pride ourselves in providing compassionate care to all patients, and we fell short of expectations. We apologize to our patient and his family and friends who were affected by our actions."
The statement said CMH is reviewing the incident and will retrain employees on the hospital's core values and "the importance of respect and dignity to our patients and our community."
While voters approved Amendment 2 in November, making Missouri the 33rd state to legalize marijuana, Webb said it’s not yet legal to possess medical marijuana in Missouri.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website, the state will start accepting applications for cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing facilities in August, with medical marijuana possibly available for purchase in January 2020.
In order to possess medical marijuana, Missourians will need to visit a state-licensed physician to obtain a physician certification and apply for an identification card from DHSS starting July 4.