The mother of Alyssa Brame, the young woman who died of alcohol poisoning in Lowell police custody, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city as well as a number of police department employees who were involved in her death.
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.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed yesterday by civil rights attorneys Howard Friedman and Drew Glassroth on behalf of Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle:
Although the cause of Ms. Brame’s death was alcohol intoxication, she died because numerous Lowell police officers were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs. Had Defendants provided Ms. Brame with medical attention shortly after she arrived at the police station, she would have survived. After investigations of this incident by the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and the Lowell Police Department, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor said in a memo to all staff that “Ms. Brame was not given the proper medical attention that she was in obvious need of while in the custody of the Lowell Police Department.” He also said that, in his opinion, “some Lowell police employees displayed ... conduct which could be described as deliberate indifference for Ms. Brame and that such conduct should shock the conscience of us all.”
The City of Lowell is sued for allowing a custom or practice of deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of intoxicated persons to exist within the Lowell Police Department. Five supervisory officers saw that Ms. Brame was unconscious yet none of them ordered medical care; they all permitted Ms. Brame to be locked in a cell while unconscious. This custom or practice had taken the place of the department’s formal written policy.
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.
"We hope this case will bring lasting changes to the way arrestees are treated at the Lowell police station. Simply assuring that officers have read the policy is not enough, they must be required to follow it," Howard Friedman said.
William Taylor told The Sun that the department has nearly finished revising its policies and procedures and that its detention policy was revised months ago.
Months ago, we requested records related to Brame's death from the city of Lowell only to be told that they would not turn them over because they were worried about a potential lawsuit. After we filed an appeal with the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, the city was advised that they were erroneously citing an exemption to the public records law and was ordered to turn the documents over to us. The city has since provided us with a fee estimate, which we paid, but we are still waiting for the records to be provided to us.