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Lake County sued over female inmate’s hunger strike death

LyvitGomes 52 VernHills who starved herself death while custody Lake County Jail.

Lyvita Gomes, 52, of Vernon Hills who starved herself to death while in custody at the Lake County Jail.

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Updated: June 8, 2012 4:01PM

The indifference of officials, staff and doctors at the Lake County Jail led to the death of an Indian woman who died after going on a hunger strike for 15 days to protest her incarceration, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Lyvita Gomes, 52, of Mumbai, India, died Jan. 3 of dehydration and malnourishment, according to Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey.

The suit, filed by the People’s Law Office in U.S. District Court, Chicago, said Gomes was pulling away from an officer as he arrested her for failing to appear for jury duty, though she was not qualified to serve on a jury since she was not a U.S. Citizen.

The suit names Lake County, Sheriff Mark Curran, Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Wayne Hunter, Lake County Health Services Administrator Scott Fitch, Correct Care Solutions and Drs. Rozel Elazegui and Hargurmukh Singh, who work at the jail.

The 16-count suit claims violations of the 14th Amendment right to due process and the Americans with Disabilities Act, violations of international law, wrongful death and conspiracy.

It alleges the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Gomes’ health and safety, and that policies and practices of the jail and medical provider constituted deliberate indifference which caused death.

It seeks unspecified damages. Curran was unavailable for comment.

According to Lake County authorities, Gomes was arrested Oct. 12 in Vernon Hills for contempt and resisting arrest. When she later missed a court appearance, a warrant was issued and she was taken into custody Dec. 14.

Unable to post $500 bail, she was jailed and “she declared a hunger strike and did not eat or drink, suffering obvious physical consequences, without any intervention by the responsible authorities,” attorney Jan Susler said.

“Although it was clear she was struggling with mental -health issues,” jail staff and doctors “allowed her to deteriorate and waste away before their eyes,” Susler said.

Two weeks later, jail officials took her to a hospital, while another jail official went to court to obtain an order releasing her from custody so the county would not be liable for medical bills, the suit claims. Gomes died a few days later at Vista Medical Center East, Waukegan.

“Lyvita’s death has caused pain and anguish for the family, but has also scarred the conscience of the community of Chicago and the international world at large,” said Gomes’ brother-in-law, Rodney Fernandes of England. “We believe that the judiciary system, the prison services and the health care services to the prison system have let down the Gomes family through a collective failure that should not have submitted Lyvita to such a tragic end.”

In April, the sheriff ordered an independent investigation into the deaths of two inmates, including Gomes, and naming Cook County attorney Terry Ekl as lead investigator. Relatives of the other inmate, Eugene Gruber of Grayslake, have also filed a federal suit over his death.

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