The family of a young drug-addicted woman from Vermont whose obituary went viral last month has sued the Springfield, Mass., police department seeking records surrounding her death, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Prisoners' Legal Services announced Tuesday.
"It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction," her sister, Kate O'Neill, wrote in the obituary, which was published in Seven Days, the Burlington Free Press and on Legacy.com. "To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay."
While the obit was frank, the circumstances of her death have been murky. The ACLU alleges that police in Springfield, where Linsenmeir had been arrested and jailed in the days before her death, have refused to provide answers.
Springfield police arrested Linsenmeir in late September, the ACLU said. She was charged as a fugitive from justice on a New Hampshire warrant and with providing false identification to police. The day before her arrest, she had texted her family that she was experiencing weight loss, chest pain, difficulty eating and sleeping, and swelling in her knee.
"I am just in a lot of pain 90 pounds can't eat sleep," read a message to one of her sisters, "my chest Hurst my knee is so swollen i can't even walk." She told her mother that she needed a hospital. "I am dying," she texted.
After her arrest, Linsenmeir was allowed to call her mother. She was distraught and reported that she was not receiving medical attention, the ACLU said in a statement. "As the phone conversation progressed, a police officer on the line refused to provide medical attention and even made a sarcastic comment after Linsenmeir’s mother reiterated that her daughter needed care," the ACLU said.
Linsenmeir was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, the ACLU said. On October 4, she was rushed by ambulance to a hospital, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit and later intubated and sedated. She died three days later.
“Our family is heartbroken to have lost our beloved Madelyn,” Linsenmeir's family said in a prepared statement released by the ACLU. “We are also deeply troubled both by her death in custody and the Springfield Police Department’s lack of transparency about what happened to her.
“We know she was refused medical attention upon booking and was rushed to the hospital five days later but are left to draw our own conclusions about what occurred in between. We have a right to know what happened to our daughter and sister while she was in the care of the SPD and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”
On October 10, the ACLU and Prisoners' Legal Services sent a letter to the Springfield police on behalf of the family, requesting that police preserve all records of Linsenmeir's detention and death. Five days later, the organizations requested the records under the Massachusetts public records law.
The police and the city of Springfield have failed to turn over any "responsive records," the ACLU said.
“The public has the right to know what happened to Madelyn,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Families must be able to learn the circumstances leading to the death of a loved one in police custody, and police must be accountable for the welfare of people in custody, including any failure to treat a person’s sickness or injury.”
Springfield police spokesman Ryan Walsh said Linsenmeir's death is "under investigation," but the department cannot comment on the lawsuit.