SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Madelyn Linsenmeir wept in the video footage from the booking area of the Springfield Police Department, gesturing to her chest as she asked for water and told officers she thought she needed to be taken to a hospital.
Linsenmeir, a 30-year-old Vermont mother and intravenous drug addict arrested in Massachusetts on an outstanding warrant, went without medical care for the next five days, despite her increasingly desperate pleas and visible deterioration, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts.
On Oct. 4, 2018, Linsenmeir was rushed from the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center to a hospital where she spent the next three days in the intensive care unit before succumbing to her illness.
According to the lawsuit, Linsenmeir died of infective endocarditis, a dangerous but treatable, infection of the heart often seen in IV drug users.
Click here to see the police footage of Madelyn Linsenmeir, or watch one of the videos below, courtesy of MassLive.
“There is no excuse for Madelyn Linsenmeir’s mistreatment and subsequent death,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Police are accountable for the safety, health and well-being of all people in custody.
“People in jails and prisons do not forfeit their right to adequate, timely health care just because they are behind bars — and people suffering from addiction deserve just treatment.”
The suit names as defendants the City of Springfield, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the Women’s Correctional Center, three Springfield Police Department employees and a handful of unnamed county jail employees.
Linsenmeir’s family wrote about her struggles in a candid obituary that, according to The Associated Press, inspired more than 100 donations to a local treatment center. Donations came in from as far away as Denmark.
The grieving family wrote that Linsenmeir, who left behind a toddler son, long suffered from drug addiction and they “for years … feared her addiction would claim her life.”
“To some, Maddie was just a junkie,” the obituary said. “When they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient.”
She could, and would, talk to anyone, they wrote.
“In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her ’til the end,” her family wrote. “She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.”
The family described Linsenmeir as a “born performer” who had a singing voice that would stop strangers on the street.
“Whether she was onstage in a musical or around the kitchen table with her family, when she shared her voice, she shared her light,” the obituary said.
At 16, Linsenmeir, who had toured the world as part of a dance and musical troupe, moved with her family from Vermont to Florida so she could attend a performing arts high school.
One night, she went to a party — and tried OxyContin for the first time.
“So began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life,” the obituary said.
A dangerous path
Linsenmeir’s addiction, which she tried several times to beat, was not the only cross she had to bear. According to the ACLU lawsuit, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder after becoming a victim of human trafficking in New Hampshire, where she was on probation for a drug-related crime.
“She was kidnapped and then trafficked in Rhode Island. While held captive, she was drugged with fentanyl, burned, stabbed and raped multiple times,” the lawsuit states. “The traffickers were later arrested, and Madelyn was returned to New Hampshire due to her outstanding probation obligations there.”
The month before her final arrest, Linsenmeir was allowed by a judge to go back to Vermont and complete her probation there, where she had family and could receive medical treatment, substance abuse treatment and psychiatric care, the lawsuit says.
“On or about Aug. 20, 2018, Madelyn stopped going to the treatment facility in Vermont. Her family did not know where she was. She ultimately made her way to Massachusetts,” the lawsuit states. “Madelyn’s departure from Vermont triggered the issuance of a probation-related arrest warrant from New Hampshire.”
By the time Linsenmeir fell into the hands of Springfield police officers, she was already infected with endocarditis, the lawsuit alleges.
The American Heart Association describes infective endocarditis, or bacterial endocarditis, as an infection caused when bacteria enters the bloodstream and settles in either the lining of the heart, a valve or a blood vessel.
It can develop suddenly and become life-threatening within days or it can come on more gradually, over a period of weeks or months. The bacteria can get into a person’s bloodstream through something as simple as a particularly rough tooth brushing that injures the lining of the mouth.
Children and young adults with heart defects are at greater risk of contracting the illness, as are adults who have had heart surgery, who have calcium deposits in a heart valve or who regularly use IV drugs, the organization’s website says.
“The symptoms of acute IE usually begin with fever, chills, fast heart rate, fatigue, night sweats, aching joints and muscles, persistent cough or swelling in the feet, legs or abdomen,” the website states.
All indications are that Linsenmeir was suffering from those symptoms before her death. On Sept. 28, the day before Linsenmeir’s arrest, her mother, Maureen Linsenmeir, received an ominous text from her, according to the lawsuit.
“I need to go to the hospital,” Madelyn Linsenmeir texted. “I am dying. I weigh 90 pounds. Mom, I need you.”
Later that day, Linsenmeir’s sister, Kate O’Neill, received similarly terrifying texts.
“I am really sick.”
“I just need to get help, go to the hospital.”
“I am just in a lot of pain, 90 pounds, can’t eat, sleep. My chest hurst (sic), my knee is so swollen I can’t even walk.”
Linsenmeir expressed fear of going to the hospital, however, because she thought the hospital staff would check for warrants. She said she didn’t want to go to jail in her condition.
Linsenmeir’s family had no idea where she was and could not help her, the lawsuit states. She was arrested in Springfield the next day and charged with being a fugitive from New Hampshire and with giving a false name at the time of her arrest.
“For the remainder of her life, Madelyn was in custody, at the mercy of her jailors’ decisions to provide or withhold medical care,” the lawsuit says.
‘I can’t breathe’
Linsenmeir was visibly limping when the camera in the Springfield Police Department’s booking area first captured images of her. As staff members helped remove her personal property and her shoes, Linsenmeir cried out in pain.
“Are you ill?” Sgt. Moises Zanazanian, the booking supervisor, asked her in the recording, which the lawsuit states had audio.
“Yeah, I’m very ill right now,” she responded. “I can’t even think straight. I’m gonna, like, literally pass out from pain.”
“Are you seeking psychiatric care?” Zanazanian asked.
“No, but I might need to go to the hospital,” she replied.
Linsenmeir went on to describe bad chest pain that had her feeling like her chest was “caving in.” She complained of difficultly breathing and swelling in her knees and feet, and she repeatedly asked for water.
According to the lawsuit, photos were taken of Linsenmeir, including of her swollen right knee and leg.
Read the entire lawsuit filed on behalf of Madelyn Linsenmeir’s family below.
Zanazanian didn’t follow up on Linsenmeir’s complaints of chest pain, however. At one point, he asked instead if she planned to use the phone.
“Not this second because I really need to drink some water, please?” she responded, according to the footage.
Sheila Rodriguez, a civilian employee who worked as “matron” of the female prisoners, escorted Linsenmeir to lockup, where she observed that Linsenmeir was in too much pain to lie down on the cot, the document says.
A couple of hours later, Rodriguez escorted Linsenmeir back into the booking area, where Zanazanian and a second booking officer, Officer Remington McNabb, remained behind the desk.
“As Madelyn entered the booking area, Officer McNabb reached down to press the button that activates the audio recording system,” the lawsuit states. “Sgt. Zanazanian made a hand motion instructing him not to.”
Linsenmeir could be seen making a phone call to her mother in Vermont, the lawsuit says. Zanazanian, McNabb and Rodriguez were present and heard the call.
“During the call, Sgt. Zanazanian, Officer McNabb and Ms. Rodriguez heard Madelyn tell Maureen that she had been arrested, that she was really sick, that she was in pain, and that she needed help. They also heard Madelyn tell Maureen that she had asked for, and been denied, medical attention,” the lawsuit claims. “During the call, Defendant Zanazanian made statements to Madelyn and her mother. Among other things, he said he would not provide Madelyn with medical attention.
“Defendant Zanazanian directed Madelyn to end the phone call.”
According to the lawsuit, Linsenmeir continued to beg for medical treatment following the call. In the silent footage from the booking area, she can be seen crying and making repeated gestures toward her chest and ribcage.
“It is clear that she was desperate, trying to convince an indifferent audience of her urgent need for medical care,” the lawsuit states. “But Sgt. Zanazanian, Officer McNabb and Ms. Rodriguez did not call for medical assistance. Instead, Sgt. Zanazanian instructed Madelyn to leave the booking area.
“On information and belief, Ms. Rodriguez took Madelyn back to her cell. Video shows Madelyn struggling to walk down the hall on her swollen foot and knee.”
‘Her own fault for using drugs’
Linsenmeir remained at the Springfield municipal jail until Sept. 30, when she was transferred to the Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee.
The ACLU alleges that staff there also failed to provide medical assistance, in part because they believed Linsenmeir was “dope sick,” or withdrawing from opioids. Her diagnosis upon medical intake at the facility was, among other things, alcohol and opioid abuse.
“At least in part because the WCC’s policy was to deny medically appropriate care to people suffering from withdrawal, its staff were acclimated to be deliberately indifferent to the medical complaints made by or on behalf of incarcerated opioid users, and to intentionally discriminate against such detainees because of their history of opioid use,” the lawsuit states.
Linsenmeir was ordered to receive Librium, a drug used to treat alcohol withdrawal, ibuprofen, Vitamin B and ice, the document alleges.
In the days before her death, Linsenmeir continued to ask repeatedly for medical treatment.
“Madelyn told them repeatedly she was sick and not ‘dope sick,’ and that her chest was tight and that her heart hurt,” the lawsuit states. “Madelyn repeatedly asked them to take her to get medical help.
“WCC staff members told Madelyn that the situation was her own fault for using drugs.”
As her condition worsened, Linsenmeir became lethargic and unresponsive, the lawsuit alleges. Another female inmate who was concerned about her gave her a bedsheet and helped cover her up, the document says.
Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 4, multiple other inmates went to staff and told them Linsenmeir needed help, the ACLU charges. The only care she received was the Librium, ibuprofen and vitamins.
“Medical staff did not treat Madelyn’s complaints of chest pain or difficulty breathing,” the lawsuit says. “They did not provide her with any treatment for her swollen knee and foot, despite her visible pain and difficulty while walking. Nor did they monitor her for the complications known to arise from opioid use.
“They did not even take her vital signs.”
On the morning of Oct. 4, when staff went into the cell to evaluate a different prisoner, they found Linsenmeir “in severe distress,” the lawsuit states. Only then did they call an ambulance, which rushed her to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.
“Within hours of her arrival, the hospital’s medical staff diagnosed Madelyn with tricuspid valve endocarditis, ‘innumerable’ pulmonary emboli and cavitary lesions of the lungs, and acute hypoxemic respiratory failure, among other things,” the document says.
Doctors began antibiotics and other treatments, but by the next day, Linsenmeir required a ventilator. Two days later, she was dead.
The medical examiner found that Linsenmeir died of the heart infection, or complications of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus septicemia, also known as MRSA. She also had septic emboli, or blood clots, in her lungs and kidneys.
Her swollen right knee was caused by septic arthritis, the lawsuit states.
Infective endocarditis, when diagnosed in time, is treatable through antibiotics and/or surgery.
“Had Madelyn received appropriate medical treatment while in the defendants’ custody, she would have survived and been spared conscious pain and suffering,” the lawsuit says. “Madelyn’s pain, suffering and death were caused by the defendants’ conduct described above, including their deliberate, intentional and unreasonable refusal to provide such treatment.”
Linsenmeir’s family released a statement through the ACLU.
“Our family is heartbroken to have lost our beloved girl and deeply troubled by her unnecessary, preventable death,” the family said in a statement. “We fear for others in her situation and call on the City and the Sheriff’s Department to provide assurances that people currently in their custody are being treated humanely, with access to trained clinicians who can evaluate prisoners and provide appropriate medical care.
“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.”
The ACLU lawsuit argues that Linsenmeir was denied her constitutional right to medical care and that the Springfield Police Department’s policies send a message that officers can violate inmates’ rights with impunity.
It also accuses the department and the city of trying to shield the employees responsible by providing false information in an initial public records request and coaching the officers throughout the internal investigation.
“Substance use disorder is a disease, and it is legally and morally indefensible for law enforcement agencies to deny appropriate medical care to prisoners with substance use disorder based on prejudice and stereotypes about people who suffer from it,” Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the ACLU’s Prisoners’ Legal Services, said in a news release.
The AP was unable to reach Springfield’s city attorney. A Hampden County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson declined to comment on a specific death but said the department “always aims to provide the best healthcare available,” the AP reported.