BOSTON (AP) — Relatives of a Vermont woman whose obituary drew national attention for its discussion of her opioid addiction filed a lawsuit Thursday in which they accuse police and jail staff of denying her proper medical care and causing her death.
The family of Madelyn Linsenmeir alleges in the federal lawsuit filed in western Massachusetts that law enforcement ignored the 30-year-old mother’s repeated pleas for medical help before her October 2018 death caused by an infected heart valve.
“Madelyn’s illness was treatable. Her life could have been saved; her suffering could have been spared,” says the lawsuit, which was filed against the city of Springfield and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department.
Springfield’s city solicitor didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment. The sheriff’s department said in an emailed statement that it cannot comment on a specific death but “always aims to provide the best healthcare available” to those in its custody.
Linsenmeir’s obituary was shared widely for its candid discussion of her struggle with drug addiction. The obituary said she tried to stay sober but was always overcome by her addiction, eventually losing custody of her young son.
Linsenmeir was arrested in September 2018 and charged with being a fugitive from a warrant in New Hampshire and giving a false name, the family argues in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. She had been on probation for a drug-related offense, which she was supposed to complete in Vermont. Instead, she left for Massachusetts, and the arrest warrant was issued, the family says.
Video of Linsenmeir after her arrest shows her asking for water and telling police that it felt like her chest was caving in and that she was in pain.
“I might need to go the hospital,” she said.
Instead of being taken to the hospital, Linsenmeir was taken to the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, the family says. The family says she repeatedly told staff there she was sick and needed medical help but was told “the situation was her own fault for using drugs.”
On Oct. 4, medical staff saw that she was in distress, and she was taken to the hospital, according to the lawsuit. She died days later at the hospital while in the custody of the sheriff’s department, the lawsuit says.
“In Maddie’s name, we will continue to advocate for the humane treatment of people everywhere who struggle with substance use disorder, especially those who are at the mercy of a criminal justice system that is clearly not equipped to respond to the opioid crisis,” her family said in an emailed statement.