In June 2022, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm Goodwin Procter LLP, filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family of Shayne Stilphen for his wrongful death while in the custody of the Boston Police Department (BPD). According to the complaint, BPD officers failed to provide Shayne with life-saving medical care until it was too late. 

On July 14, 2019, Shayne was booked into BPD’s District 4 station near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard—the epicenter of the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis. The complaint alleges that videos from the booking area demonstrate that throughout the process, Shayne’s body contorted into unnatural postures, and he struggled to stay awake and could not stand on his own. According to the complaint, these signs of opioid over-intoxication should have caused the police officers to seek medical assistance for Shayne or provide him with medical care themselves; instead, they placed Shayne in a cell by himself. 

Video surveillance footage from Shayne’s cell revealed that Shayne periodically ingested drugs for the next two hours and then slumped forward with his limp torso awkwardly folded over his crossed legs. Shayne remained motionless in this position of medical distress for almost an hour while officers walked by seven times. The complaint alleges that these officers had access to the overdose reversal medication, Narcan—which could have saved Shayne’s life—but they did not use it. By the time an officer finally intervened to administer Narcan, it was too late. Notably, this officer responded the very first time he walked by Shayne’s cell and saw him in a position the officer described as looking “as if it would be of extreme discomfort for most individuals.” This was the same position every other officer had ignored for nearly an hour. 

According to the complaint, the defendants denied Shayne his constitutional right to medical care and unlawfully discriminated against Shayne on the basis of his opioid use disorder (OUD) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These failures are especially egregious as less than two months before Shayne’s death, another man had died in District 4 under similar circumstances. Despite this, the complaint alleges, no officers were disciplined for that previous death and BPD implemented no new policies, protocols, or trainings that might have saved Shayne’s life.  

OUD is a chronic brain disease, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine and other medical experts. Like other chronic illnesses, OUD often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment, patients with OUD are frequently unable to control their use of opioids, and the disease can lead to premature death, including due to accidental overdose.  

According to the complaint, Shayne left an indelible mark on the many people he positively impacted during his lifetime. Shayne was known for his quick wit, his artistic talents, his athleticism, and his love of cooking, and at the time of his death, he was talking to his mother about turning thirty, sharing plans with his mother about entering active recovery, becoming a barber, and having a child, the lawsuit alleges. Shayne’s compassion and advocacy, according to the complaint, inspired his mother Lynnel to establish Hand Delivered Hope – an organization that for many years provided direct outreach to people living with substance use disorder, and educated legislators, clergy, medical providers, law enforcement, and others how to understand, accept, include and care for people living with substance use disorders. 

Attorney(s)

Matthew Segal, Jessie J. Rossman, Areeba Jibril (ACLU of Massachusetts); Alexandra D. Valenti, Christine Armellino, Gabriella Montes, Wrenne Bartlett, Robert Frederickson, Matthew Ginther (Goodwin Procter LLP)

Date filed

June 21, 2022