Family files civil suit after woman dies in Chicago police custody in apparent suicide

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(CHICAGO) — The family of Irene Chavez – a woman who died in Chicago police custody last December after an apparent suicide – filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and several police officers.

“What we know is Irene Chavez died in the care and custody of the Chicago police. The officers knew Irene had mental health challenges,” Andrew Stroth, the family’s attorney, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Stroth referenced a video of Chavez released last week by the Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, where Chavez is seen arguing with arresting officers and telling them that she is a military veteran who suffers from PTSD.

Those details are also documented in a police incident report released by COPA.

“CPD officers ignored this information and failed to modify standard arrest procedures to accommodate Irene’s mental health needs,” the lawsuit, which was obtained by ABC News, alleges.

“Not only did CPD officers refuse to accommodate Irene’s disability during the arrest, but they intentionally escalated the situation by mocking Irene and her friend, and using foul, aggressive language,” the lawsuit says.

The Chicago Police Department told ABC News that it does not comment on pending litigation and has referred all questions about the case to COPA.

The City of Chicago’s Law Department did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment but told the ABC station in Chicago, WLS, on Tuesday that “The City has not yet been served with a complaint and will have no further comment as the matter is now in litigation.”

The documents and videos related to the death of Chavez were released as part of an investigation by the civilian oversight agency looking into Chavez’s death.

Body camera video released by COPA shows Chavez arguing while being arrested hours before her death.

According to police, the 33-year-old woman died after an “attempted suicide” on Dec. 18, 2021, at the 3rd District Police Station. The official cause and manner of death are pending autopsy results, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office told ABC News.

Police said Chavez was taken into custody after her involvement in a bar fight at the Jeffery Pub Tavern and was belligerent during processing.

Chavez could be heard by police shouting in the holding cell, the report by COPA said. After about five minutes of silence, an officer went to check on her well-being by looking through the window, the report said. That’s when Chavez was found with her shirt wrapped around her neck, tied to a bench and had a “faint pulse,” according to the report.

Video released by COPA shows officers performing CPR before Chavez was transported to the University of Chicago Hospital. According to COPA, Chavez was in “critical condition” at the time and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Iris Chavez, Irene’s sister, accused police of neglect and said officers should have recognized that her sister was struggling with mental health.

“[I’m] Looking at the video and saying to myself, why aren’t they doing this instead? Why didn’t they do this? Or why is he talking to her like that?” Iris Chavez said.

According to the lawsuit, Irene Chavez was a “queer Afro-Latina” woman from Chicago and was a “decorated military veteran” who served in combat zones.

“After her honorable discharge from the military, Irene developed serious post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and struggled with alcohol dependency,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Chavez was “in the midst of a mental health crisis” when she was arrested and had relapsed to drinking that day after being sober for a month.

“Both Irene and her friend repeatedly told CPD officers that Irene was a veteran, that she had PTSD, and that she needed hospitalization,” the lawsuit says.

Irene Chavez is one of two women to die in Chicago police custody within less than two months.

COPA is also investigating the death of London Marquez, 31, who died on Jan. 27. According to Marquez’s family, she was pregnant at the time of her death.

Chicago police declined to comment on that case and referred questions regarding both cases to COPA.

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