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Family of woman who died in Chicago Police lockup seeks millions

May Molinwith her 1-year-old granddaughter baby's birthday  2004.

May Molina with her 1-year-old granddaughter on the baby's birthday in 2004.

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Updated: December 1, 2013 8:34AM

Lawyers for the family of a seriously ill 55-year-old community activist who died in a Chicago Police cell urged a federal jury on Tuesday to “send a message to the mayor” about the city’s “broken system” of police detention by awarding her family $6 million to $9 million in damages.

But attorneys for the city said “the harsh reality is that the blame lies right at the feet” of the dead woman for swallowing six foil wraps of heroin during a bust at her North Side home nine years ago. They argued that her family “don’t deserve a dime.”

The arguments came at the end of a three-week civil trial that raised thorny questions about the length of time Chicago Police hold arrestees in custody compared with other major cities, and the medical care it provides.

U.S. Judge John F. Grady’s small courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building was packed to bursting point Tuesday by supporters of May Molina’s family, which is suing the city and eight Chicago cops and hopes a verdict in their favor will bring a citywide change in how arrestees are handled.

Their lawyer Jon Loevy said Molina died after being held more than 24 hours without seeing a doctor, even though she told Town Hall district officers she was diabetic and asthmatic and needed her medications.

Though Molina’s criminal defense attorney and an increasingly breathless Molina demanded that she see a doctor, the cops refused, ignoring between five and 10 calls from relatives worried about her health, Loevy said, adding, “All they had to do was listen, and she’d be alive.”

Loevy pointed to evidence that the typical Chicago arrestee spends 10 hours in police custody, far longer than the national average of four hours before detainees are transferred to a jail with medically trained staff.

He said 70 percent of arrestees who report serious health problems don’t get medical attention or medication while in police care. He argued that Chicago Police in practice ignore the “unworkable” written policy of taking all arrestees who need medication to a hospital.

Whether Molina died from swallowing heroin or because she didn’t get her medication was “irrelevant” because the cops had a duty to see she got the medical care she needed, he said.

But attorney John Gibbons, representing the city, said the case was “built on sand.”

Twenty thousand arrestees were taken to the hospital in the four years leading up to Molina’s arrest, Gibbons said.

He disputed almost every single one of Loevy’s claims and argued that the only reason Molina wasn’t helped was that she had “a dirty little secret.”

Molina told the cops she didn’t want to go to the hospital, he said. She knew doctors would have found the heroin wraps she had swallowed, which in turn would have been linked to 80 more wraps recovered from her home, he said.

As a previously two-time convicted felon, she would have faced more than five years in prison, he added.

“This case is all about the money,” Gibbons said. “The guards didn’t do anything wrong and they can’t be blamed.”

Jurors are due to return to begin their deliberations Wednesday afternoon.


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