The family of a Vermont woman, whose candid obituary about her struggles with opioid addiction went viral, is suing the City of Springfield and its police department for records on her arrest in September and her death, which followed just over a week later.
The ACLU of Massachusetts said in a statement Tuesday announcing the lawsuit, in partnership with Prisoners’ Legal Services, that Linsenmeir’s family is seeking the public records related to the last days of the 30-year-old’s life in order to better understand what led to her hospitalization and death.
“Our family is heartbroken to have lost our beloved Madelyn,” the family said in a statement released by the ACLU. “We are also deeply troubled both by her death in custody and the Springfield Police Department’s lack of transparency about what happened to her. We know she was refused medical attention upon booking and was rushed to the hospital five days later but are left to draw our own conclusions about what occurred in between. We have a right to know what happened to our daughter and sister while she was in the care of the [Springfield Police Department] and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”
According to the complaint shared by the ACLU, Linsenmeir left a treatment facility in Vermont, where she was originally from and where her mother and a sister live, and “made her way to Massachusetts” in August 2018. Her family says she sent a text message to her mother on Sept. 28 saying, “I need to go to the hospital I am dying I weigh 90 pounds mom I need you.”
The same day, she exchanged text messages with her sister, Kate O’Neill, saying she needed to go to a hospital, was in pain, and couldn’t walk but was scared of going to a hospital because she didn’t want to go to jail. Linsenmeir was arrested the next day by Springfield police, according to the lawsuit.
“Shortly after her arrest, she was allowed to call her mother,” the ALCU said in a statement. “She was distraught on the call and reported that she was not receiving medical attention. As the phone conversation progressed, a police officer on the line refused to provide medical attention and even made a sarcastic comment after Linsenmeir’s mother reiterated that her daughter needed care.”
According to the complaint, Linsenmeir was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and on Oct. 4 she was rushed to a hospital where she was admitted to the intensive care unit. She died on Oct. 7.
The Springfield Police Department and City of Springfield have not produced any records in response to the requests made on behalf of Linsenmeir’s family on Oct. 15, according to the ACLU.
Linsenmeir’s family plans to use the records they receive in their continued public advocacy for the “human treatment of opioid users,” the ACLU said.
The heartbreakingly honest obituary for the 30-year-old and the realities of the opioid epidemic captured the attention of people locally and nationally, from the chief of police in Burlington, Vermont, to Ivanka Trump.
“Madelyn’s family expects to continue to advocate for the rights of opioid users, for humane treatment of opioid-addicted prisoners, and for expanded access to medications and other evidence-based therapies for opioid use disorder,” the lawsuit reads. “They expect that the requested records, when produced, will inform this advocacy, and may also be publicly released.”
The Springfield Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon.
“The matter is under investigation and we cannot comment specifically on the lawsuit at this time,” spokesman Ryan Walsh said in an emailed statement.
“The public has the right to know what happened to Madelyn,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Families must be able to learn the circumstances leading to the death of a loved one in police custody, and police must be accountable for the welfare of people in custody, including any failure to treat a person’s sickness or injury.”
Linsenmeir’s family could not be immediately reached for comment.