The city of Lowell has refused to comply with a public records request by The Bay State Examiner for records related to Alyssa Brame, the young woman who died of alcohol poisoning while in police custody in 2013.
Brame was arrested by Lowell police for allegedly soliciting sex on January 12, 2013. She fell unconscious while in their custody and ultimately died of alcohol poisoning.
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, according to the report. When she was finally checked on and found unresponsive, another 15 minutes passed before anyone called 911. The Board of Inquiry report states 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 offered deals to the five employees facing the harshest punishment, which allowed them to accept lesser punishment instead of facing disciplinary 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.
During Siopes' hearing, his attorneys alleged that the police department never distributed the policy he was accused of violating and were trying to cover it up. The city denied the cover-up allegation, but offered Siopes a better deal, which he accepted. Siopes was ultimately punished with a 90-day suspension and a 9-month loss of rank to sergeant.
The Bay State Examiner's public records request asked for all records related to Siopes' disciplinary hearing as well as all communications sent and received by the city manager's office related to the hearing and Alyssa Brame.
"The City has been contacted by legal counsel representing a relative of Ms. Brame to initiate litigation proceedings. Your request in its entirety concerns documents that may be related to that pending litigation," said Assistant City Solicitor Rachel M. Brown.
Brown did not specify which family member she was referring to, but we know from past communications that she was referring to Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, Brame's mother.
Howard Friedman, the attorney representing Swiridowsky-Muckle, said he has sent the city a 258 demand letter, but has not yet filed a lawsuit. He said Brown is likely referring to anticipated litigation.
Brown said the city is withholding the records under the so-called "deliberative process" exemption to the public records law. This exemption only applies to records that contain recommendations on legal and policy matters found within an ongoing deliberative process, according to the public records law guide by the Supervisor of Records.
The deliberative process exemption would, for example, apply to emails discussing a legal strategy for addressing a lawsuit. However, the exemption does not apply to all records that may be in some way connected to a lawsuit.
The city's refusal to release any records related to the Siopes hearing or Alyssa Brame's death is in fact absurd, because many of the records in question have already been made public. For instance, video of Brame's treatment at the police station has already been released to The Sun and WCVB. Some of the requested records include audio-recordings of Siopes' disciplinary hearing, which was open to the public.
We have appealed to the Supervisor of Records, asking that the city's decision to withhold these records be reversed.