The Chicago Police Department's practice of denying arrestees medical treatment for up to 48 hours is unconstitutional, said a federal jury that yesterday awarded $1 million in damages to the family of a seriously ill woman who died in police custody, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Lawyers for the family of May Molina hailed the verdict as a landmark ruling that will force Chicago to change the way it handles suspects who are held for up to two days in police cells. “Chicago is going to have to come into line with the way the rest of the nation provides medical care to detainees,” said attorney John Loevy.
Molina, an asthmatic, diabetic and obese 55-year-old community activist, died in a district police station in 2004 after officers repeatedly ignored warnings she needed medical help. Warnings from Molina's lawyer, five to 10 callers and Molina herself that she was seriously ill and needed to see a doctor went unheeded before she died after more than 24 hours in custody, evidence showed. The city argued that Molina had “only herself to blame” because she swallowed six foil wraps of heroin before she was arrested in a raid on her home, then refused medical attention. Though other large U.S. cities typically transfer arrestees to a jail with medically trained staff within four hours, Chicago's policy of holding detainees in police cells for up to two days was proper because they can be driven to hospital if they need help, city attorneys said.