The city of Lowell has reached a settlement with the mother of Alyssa Brame, the young woman who died of alcohol poisoning after police left her alone in a cell without medical attention.
The city has agreed to pay $232,500 to Brame's mother, Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, whose lawsuit accused the police department of "deliberate indifference." Swiridowsky-Muckle will also have the opportunity to meet with the police department's superintendent to discuss policy changes made as a result of Brame's death. She will also have a chance to meet with the numerous police employees who were named as defendants in her lawsuit.
Swiridowsky-Muckle told The Sun that she was not motivated by the money, but by a desite to stop similar tragedies from happening in the future.
"People are sue-happy," Swiridowsky-Muckle said. "I didn't want to sue to begin with, but this was the only way I felt I could bring some kind of changes about."
She said the money will go to Brame's 12-year-old son, who lives with his other grandparents.
"The city has made changes including buying and installing a system to alert supervisors if a person is in a lockup cell and the required cell check has not been done as well as training all of the staff and they have an arrangement with the ambulance service and hospital to assure intoxicated people will be treated," said Howard Friedman, Swiridowsky-Muckle's attorney.
"Alice’s main goal is to assure this does not happen again. All Lowell police officer now know that they can never put an unconscious person in a cell. They also know that hospitals must treat intoxicated people," Friedman said. "Alice will speak to all of the officers involved to tell them how she felt about the incident and to emphasize that her daughter although highly intoxicated and homeless was a human being with a mother who loved her and should have been treated as a fellow human being."
Brame was arrested by Lowell police for allegedly soliciting sex on January 12, 2013. She was intoxicated at the time and fell unconscious shortly after being brought to the police station. Surveillance videos from the police department show that she was carried into a holding cell, where she was left alone for over an hour with no medical attention and ultimately died.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office previously 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. 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 Lowell 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 when Brame was left in the cell, 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' public 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.
According to the lawsuit, none of the personnel at the police station that night "knew there was a formal written policy prohibiting locking an unconscious person in a cell without first having her examined by medical personnel... Instead of following the formal written rules, Lowell police officers followed an unwritten practice or custom of placing intoxicated people who were unconscious in a lockup cell at the police station without any medical evaluation. Defendant City of Lowell had allowed this custom or practice to develop among its police officers."
The lawsuit further notes that two other people have died of alcohol poisoning while in Lowell police custody: Walter Scott Paine in 2007 and Michael Eagan in the 80s.
In addition to Siopes, four other police supervisors were given deals by the city that allowed them to avoid any substantial punishment for their roles in Brame's death:
- Sergeant James Fay, who faced termination, was given a temporary, one-year demotion to patrolman and a 60-day suspension.
- Sergeant Michael Giuffrida, who faced a one-year suspension, was given a 15-day suspension.
- Sergeant Francis Nobrega, who faced a one-year suspension, was also given a 15-day suspension.
- Lieutenant Michael Kilmartin, who faced a permanent demotion to patrolman and a one-year suspension, was given a temporary, three-month demotion to sergeant, plus a 45-day unpaid suspension.
These five officers were named as defendants in the lawsuit along with police officers William Florence, Robert Dyer, and Charles Pappaconstantinou and detention attendants Kevin Lombard and Shawn Tetreault.