FBI looking into death of woman in Lowell police custody

The FBI is reviewing the circumstances of the death of 31-year-old Alyssa Brame, who died of alcohol poisoning while in the custody of the Lowell police, according to The Lowell Sun. Brame was arrested by Lowell police on January 12, 2013 for allegedly soliciting sex, fell unconscious, and ultimately died while in police custody. The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute anyone for Brame’s death, but an internal Board of Inquiry review by the police department found that six police officers and two civilian employees violated department policies, possibly contributing to Brame’s death. Police left Brame alone in a cell for over an hour after she lost consciousness. When she was finally checked on and found unresponsive, another 15 minutes passed before anyone called 911. The Board of Inquiry report notes that the department “has had a long-standing policy of ‘At no time will an unconscious prisoner be placed into a cell. Unconscious prisoners shall be examined by trained medical individuals as soon as possible.’”

Several of the employees involved in Brame’s death were recommended for disciplinary action by Police Superintendent William Taylor. The City of Lowell offered deals to the five employees facing the harshest punishment, which allowed them to accept lesser punishment instead of facing hearings. Lieutenant Thomas Siopes, who was in charge the night Brame died, was the only one to reject the deal offered to him, which included a demotion to patrolman and a 180-day unpaid suspension.

Now, according to the Sun:

The FBI is investigating whether federal civil-rights violations were committed by Lowell police officers the night a woman died in police custody last year, sources told The Sun.

The FBI's probe began in recent weeks and the FBI has requested documents from the city pertaining to Alyssa Brame's death in a Lowell cell block in January 2013, including the internal Police Department report on the incident, a source said.

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Special Agent Greg Comcowich, an FBI spokesman, said the FBI does not confirm or deny whether it is conducting investigations.

Police Superintendent William Taylor and City Manager Kevin Murphy declined to comment.

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Attorney Gary Nolan is one of the attorneys defending Siopes, who was recommended for termination for his actions the night Brame died.

Nolan said Taylor informed those involved with Siopes' disciplinary hearing that began last week that the FBI was reviewing the cell-block death. He said neither he, nor Siopes, nor two other officers he defended before the Board of Inquiry have been contacted by the FBI.

"While we have received no formal confirmation of a federal investigation, we certainly welcome any independent review of this case," Nolan said in a statement.

Nolan also said: "As the first week of testimony showed, the Board of Inquiry report is flawed and full of omissions ... There is a lot more to this case, and we look forward to telling the whole story."

Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, Brame's mother, said she was thrilled to hear the FBI was investigating the circumstances surrounding her daughter's death.

"I think it is the best thing to happen to this point," Swiridowsky-Muckle said. "It is almost like Christmas to me.

"It helps knowing my daughter's death is not going to get swept under the carpet and some officers are not going to sleep easy tonight knowing it is not going to get swept under the carpet."

Siopes currently faces termination by the city for his role in Brame's death. A hearing to determine what disciplinary action he should face is currently on hold and is set to resume on August 19.

When the hearing is over, Eric Slagle, the director of Development Services who is serving as hearing officer, will make a recommendation to City Manager Kevin Murphy about what disciplinary action should be taken against Siopes. The decision will ultimately rest with Murphy.

You can read about the first four days of the hearing here.