Court recognizes right to medical care while in custody

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion helmed by the esteemed Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, has kept alive a lawsuit by the mother of a mentally ill young woman who through a series of incredibly sad events, is permanently brain damaged.

In short, the plight of Christina Rose Eilman is this: The 21-year-old college student was arrested on May 7, 2006 at Midway Airport while attempting to board a plane back to her home state. Eilman appeared to be in the throes of a severe mental breakdown or manic state. Apparently she had been in a motor vehicle collision the previous year and as a result had developed bipolar disorder. She was not taking her psychotropic medications and had relapsed. The police took her to one police station a few miles from Midway Airport where she was detained. While there, her mother and stepfather, having learned of her arrest, informed officers that Eilman suffered from bipolar disorder. The police disregarded this information, did not record it in Eilman’s arrest report and did not provide any medical attention. After a few hours she was transferred to a lock-up at 51st and Wentworth on the city’s South Side as it had a holding cell for women, while the first station did not. At 51st and Wentworth, Eilman apparently exhibited bizarre behaviors, including chanting rap lyrics, smearing menstrual blood on the cell’s walls and stripping her clothes off. The day after her initial detention and arrest, she was released on an I-bond at about 6:30 p.m., not given her cell phone back and essentially released in a city she did not know and in a neighborhood known for its high rates of criminal activity. Eilman, a young, white female, dressed in a cut-off top, short shorts and boots, was seen by a police officer in the station’s parking lot, with a puzzled look on her face.

What happened after that would change the course of this young woman’s life.  She wandered into the Robert Taylor homes, one of the city’s most dangerous public housing projects. She ended up talking to individuals at the homes, going in to a seventh floor apartment used for “hanging out”. She was found there a few hours later by Marvin Powell, who proceeded to rape her at knifepoint. What happened next is unknown. Eilman either trying to escape, or pushed out, fell seven stories from that seventh floor apartment. She survived but is permanently brain damaged and requires extensive medical care.

A lawsuit was filed against the City of Chicago and various police officers and other individuals under § 1983 in the Northern District. The defendants filed various motions to dismiss based on qualified immunity. Some claims survived while others did not. An appeal followed.

The Court of Appeals recognized Eilman actually had three distinct theories against the defendants and remanded the case back to the district court.

The court recognized Eilman’s right to medical care while in custody, her right to be kept in custody longer to facilitate medical care and her right to not be put in danger by being released in the state and manner she was.  This ruling is a tremendous victory for the plaintiffs in this case and others who have suffered devastating injuries. It recognized the constitutional right to not be placed in danger by the police, despite the defendants’ contention that they have no duty to protect.

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