Video of the booking room at the Springfield, Mass., police department on September 29 captured a distressed Madelyn Linsenmeir asking for water and medical care as officers methodically went through the booking routine and ignored her requests.
Several days later, on October 7, the Vermont woman died at a Massachusetts hospital. She'd battled drug addiction for years.
A poignant obituary for Linsenmeir, written by her sister Kate O'Neill, went viral. O'Neill wrote that the family hoped her sister's story would help others let go of the stigma related to addiction. (After it ran, Seven Days hired O'Neill for a special reporting project on the ongoing opiate crisis.)
Linsenmeir's family members are also looking for answers about their loved one's final days. The family, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, sued the Springfield PD in November, seeking video and other information related to her arrest.
One concern? Linsenmeir had been allowed to call her mother during booking and sounded distraught. She reported that she was not receiving medical attention, the ACLU said in a November 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.
On Monday, the ACLU provided Seven Days with three videos it obtained that show Linsenmeir's booking. Only one contains audio. The other two soundlessly show Linsenmeir make a phone call to her mother.
In a statement provided by the ACLU, Linsenmeir's family criticized "a culture within the Springfield Police Department that affects people who are in SPD custody right now." They called for assurances that people in law enforcement custody receive timely and adequate medical care.
The lone video with audio captures an officer asking Linsenmeir a series of biographical questions as the young woman alternately rests her head on the desk or cradles it in her hands. She appears to provide a name that is not her own.
“I really need to get some water before I pass out,” Linsenmeir tells the booking officer a few minutes into the video. She also had trouble taking off her shoes, complaining of pain in her knee and swollen feet.
"Are you ill?" the booking officer asks as he goes through his questions.
"Yeah, I’m very ill right now," Linsenmeir responds. "I can’t even think straight. I’m, like, literally going to pass out from pain."
At one point, the booking officer asks Linsenmeir if she is seeking psychiatric care.
“No, but I might need to go to the hospital,” she responds. “I have a really, really, really bad chest — like I don’t know what happened to it. It feels like it’s caving in.” Linsenmeir tells the officers she is having trouble breathing, and also complains of pain and swelling in her feet and knees.
"I really need to drink some water," she says. "Please."
Officers take her fingerprints as she gasps and appears on the verge of tears. Eventually, she is led, shoeless, down a hallway and out of sight.
The family, along with the ACLU and Prisoners' Legal Services, said Linsenmeir should have received immediate medical care when she was arrested. Both organizations are working with the family to figure out what went wrong.
"All officers are trained to identify the signs and symptoms of substance use, and every police department has a policy requiring officers to get medical attention for sick and injured prisoners," Prisoners' Legal Services attorney David Milton said. "No one should be denied medical care in a police lockup.”
Springfield police spokesperson Ryan Walsh confirmed in an email that Linsenmeir was arrested September 29 and charged with furnishing a false name to police. She also had active warrants out of New Hampshire. Citing federal medical privacy law, Walsh refused to say whether Linsenmeir received any medical care during her time in Springfield police custody. The next day, she was transferred to the sheriff's department in Hampden County, Mass.
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. As of Monday, her cause of death was still listed as "pending," the Republican reported.
For Linsenmeir's family, the videos don't provide enough answers.
"We call on the City to explain why Maddie was treated this way and provide assurances that people currently in the care of the SPD are being treated humanely and receiving appropriate medical care," her family said in its statement. "In the meantime, we will continue to look into what happened to Madelyn. We will also continue to advocate for the humane treatment of people everywhere who struggle with substance use disorder, especially those who are at the mercy of a criminal justice system that is clearly not equipped to respond to the opioid epidemic, a public health crisis that is unfortunately playing out in our country’s courts and jails.”
ACLU staff attorney Dan McFadden wrote in a statement that he was "disturbed" by the content of the videos.
"On behalf of Madelyn Linsenmeir’s family, the ACLU of Massachusetts and Prisoners’ Legal Services will continue to investigate the circumstances of her death," McFadden wrote. "Police are accountable for the welfare of people in custody, including any failure to treat a person’s sickness or injury."
Andrea Suozzo contributed reporting.
Watch the booking video below:
Corrections 1/14/19: This story has been corrected to reflect that Madelyn Linsenmeir was transferred to the custody of the Hampden County, Mass., sheriff's department. Also, the hospital where she died was in Massachusetts.