Monday, August 29, 2011
A panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled last week that Chicago Police Department lockup officers did not enjoy qualified immunity for denying medical care to an arrestee when the officers knew about the arrestee's medical condition and that she needed care.
The case, Molina v. City of Chicago, is the latest chapter in the long-running litigation between the estate of May Molina, a prominent civil rights activist, and the City and CPD officers arising out of Molina's death while in police custody prior to her probable cause hearing.
Molina was arrested after seventeen officers raided her home on a drug tip and recovered a number of tinfoil packets and some brown putty. Arresting officers denied Molina permission to take along her medication for diabetes; lockup officers refused to give her medical attention when she asked for a doctor--and quite clearly needed one. Molina died while in custody. (There's a factual dispute about the cause of Molina's death: her estate argues that she died because she didn't have her diabetes medication, while the defendants argue that she died of a heroin overdose. There's a related evidentiary dispute about the lower court's rejection of Molina's expert (which the Seventh Circuit reversed). But the case came to the court on appeals of summary judgment in favor of the defendants; the court ruled that the facts viewed in the light most favorable to Molina warranted reversal.)
The court ruled that the lockup officers were aware of Molina's condition and that they denied her appropriate medical care. But the defendants argued that they were entitled to qualified immunity, because at the time of Molina's detention the law wasn't clear what standard applied--the Eighth Amendment "deliberate indifference" standard or the Fourth Amendment "objectively unreasonable" standard.
The court rejected that argument. It ruled that it had long held that the Fourth Amendment protected an arrestee until the probable cause hearing. But in any event, it didn't matter: Molina's evidence could also show that the officers violated the higher Eighth Amendment standard.
The ruling means that the case goes back to the district court on Molina's claim that she was denied medical care.
[Image: Delacroix, The Prisoner of Chillon, Wikimedia Commons]