June 7, 2012
Attorneys from People’s Law Office File Civil Rights Lawsuit on Behalf of Family of Woman Who Died In Lake County Jail
Woman dies in custody due to deliberate indifference to her health and safety, her estate files lawsuit on her behalf
Lyvita Gomes, a 52 year old woman from India, tragically died on January 3, 2012 in a Lake County hospital after 15 days in custody at the Lake County Jail, as a result of an appalling abandonment of responsibility by employees of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the jail medical services provider Correct Care Solutions. Ms. Gomes had been incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge of allegedly pulling away from a law enforcement officer who came to arrest her at her home on a warrant for failing to appear for jury service, a duty for which only U.S. citizens are eligible. Unable to pay $500 bail, she was held in custody awaiting trial and a court ordered evaluation of her competency to stand trial. Each day in jail she declared herself on hunger strike and did not eat or drink, suffering obvious physical consequences, without any intervention by the responsible authorities. Although it was clear that she was struggling with mental health issues, the jail officials and contract medical providers failed in their obligations to ensure the health and safety of all prisoners and allowed her to deteriorate and waste away before their eyes. It was only on the 15th day that jail officials finally took her to a hospital emergency room, 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. She died a few days later.
Today the family of Lyvita Gomes filed a civil rights lawsuit naming Lake County, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, Lake County Jail Corrections Chief Wayne Hunter, Lake County Health Services Administrator Scott Fitch, Correct Care Solutions, and Lake County Jail doctors Dr. Rozel Elazegui, and Dr. Hargurmukh P. Singh, as responsible for this tragic death. Her estate brings claims for violations of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, international law, and Illinois state law, including wrongful death. In addition to alleging that these individuals were deliberately indifferent to her health and safety, the complaint also alleges that the policies and practices of the jail and medical provider constituted deliberate indifference which caused her death.
Speaking for the family, Lyvita’s brother-in-law Rodney Fernandes, of England, wrote in an e-mail, “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. 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.”
Father Daniel Hartnett, whose Most Blessed Trinity Waukegan church welcomed Lyvita’s family, prayed at her funeral mass, “She was a woman of faith, a woman of prayer. She should not have died the way she died. My prayer is that her death contribute to better justice in our world.”
On behalf of the Indian community in and around Lake County, Dr. Austin D’Souza, Past President of the India Catholic Association of America, posed many questions regarding what he called “the tragic death of Lyvita Gomes,” including, “Why didn’t they release her [earlier] on her own recognizance? Why didn’t they provide hydration? Why wasn’t the Indian community contacted? What is the real truth? How and where did the justice system fail? We totally lost faith in the system – instead of helping people to live in this beautiful world, Lake County officials made us see a death in Lyvita Gomes.”
Attorneys Jan Susler and Janine Hoft of the People’s Law Office, who filed the lawsuit, stated, “Lyvita Gomes’ death was entirely avoidable. When she was ill and at her most vulnerable, she was deserted by the very people whose job it was to take care of her. The individuals and systems responsible for the death of Lyvita Gomes must be held accountable and her civil rights vindicated through this federal litigation.”
Jan Susler 773 235 0070 x 118
Janine Hoft 773 235 0070 x 115
People’s Law Office is a civil rights law firm in Chicago which has represented victims of police brutality and government abuse for over 40 years.