Together with Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) and cooperating attorney Luke Ryan, the ACLU of Massachusetts today filed a lawsuit against the Springfield Police Department (SPD) and City of Springfield seeking information about the arrest and detention of Madelyn Linsenmeir, who later died in custody.
Linsenmeir’s death attracted national attention after her family drafted an obituary candidly describing her struggle with opioid use disorder. Now, they are urgently seeking public records from the SPD and City of Springfield to better understand what occurred in the time leading up to her hospitalization and death.
“Our family is heartbroken to have lost our beloved Madelyn,” said the family. “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 SPD and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”
Madelyn Linsenmeir was arrested by SPD in late September. The day before her arrest, she had texted her family that she was experiencing severe medical symptoms, including weight loss, chest pain, difficulty eating and sleeping, and swelling in her knee. Shortly after her arrest, she was allowed to call her mother. 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.
Linsenmeir was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. On October 4, she was rushed by ambulance to a hospital, where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. By the next day, she had been intubated and sedated. On October 7, she died.
On October 10, ACLU and PLS attorneys sent a letter to SPD on behalf of Linsenmeir’s family, requesting that the police department preserve all documents, correspondence, and other evidence relating to her arrest, detention, and death. The ACLU and PLS then filed a public records request under the Massachusetts public records law on October 15. The Springfield Police Department and the City of Springfield have since failed to produce any responsive records.
“The public has the right to know what happened to Maddie,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “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.”
"Facts regarding Madelyn’s treatment in custody are crucial to understanding her story and whether or not those responsible for her care acted in accordance with the law," said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services. "Her family is entitled to these records and it is in the public’s interest to know if procedures currently in place are sufficiently equipped to address the needs of our fellow community members suffering from substance use disorder."
The requested information will also support Linsenmeir’s family in their continued public advocacy for the humane treatment of opioid users and for increased access to medications and medical care for people suffering from opioid use disorder. Her obituary, written by her family and published in a Vermont newspaper one week after her death, was shared extensively on social media, including by Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, actress and advocate Alyssa Milano, and presidential advisor Ivanka Trump. The unexpected attention to the obituary resulted in Linsenmeir’s family being invited to tell her story in national and international media, as well as at public events attended by law enforcement leadership. The family expects that the requested records, when produced, will further inform their advocacy.