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Bipolar Woman Can Sue Chicago Cops for Release in High-Crime Area

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals announced on Thursday that Christina Eilman can sue seven Chicago police officers for releasing her into a violent neighborhood where she was raped and nearly killed, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The decision brings an end to a two-year qualified immunity interlocutory appeal.

Police arrested Eilman outside Chicago's Midway Airport in 2006 while she was having a bipolar breakdown. While in custody, many of the officers thought that Eilman was difficult, on drugs, or a run-of-the-mill uncooperative person. Those who thought that she needed mental health care were ignored or overruled.

Eilman never told the cops that she was bipolar, but her mother and stepfather did. (The officers thought the stepfather was a fake caller, and the officer who took the calls from Eilman's mother failed to tell anyone else or record the information in Eilman's file.)

Instead of placing Eilman in a hospital for psychological evaluation, police released her near the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the city's most dangerous projects. After wandering into a nearby high rise, Eilman was sexually assaulted and fell from a seventh-story window. As a result of the fall, she is permanently mentally and physically disabled.

Eilman's mother sued the city and individual officers on Eilman's behalf. The district court said that certain officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because Eilman had a clearly-established right to medical care, and a reasonable jury could find that Eilman needed care and that the police knew it. The city appealed.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that Eilman's lawsuit actually asserted three theories for denying qualified immunity:

  1. Eilman had a right to medical care while in custody.
  2. Eilman needed to kept in custody longer to facilitate medical care.
  3. Police gratuitously put Eilman in danger by releasing her where and when they did, and in a mental state that left her unable to protect herself.

In DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution does not create a right to be protected from criminal predators. The Seventh Circuit declined to circumvent the DeShaney problem in this claim by finding a clearly-established right to extended custody.

The appellate court held that Eilman's claims could proceed based on her first and third theories.

Notably, the Seventh Circuit found that Chicago police created extra risk by moving Eilman to a part of the city they knew to be extremely dangerous and they did nothing to mitigate that risk, even though they were aware that Eilman was unstable. (The Seventh Circuit suggested five easy ways that the cops could have mitigated the risk, before concluding, "They might as well have released her into the lions' den at the Brookfield Zoo.")

Since Christina Eilman was entitled to medical care and state actors who -- without justification -- increase a person's risk of harm violate the Constitution, the Seventh Circuit ruled that Eilman could proceed with her claims against seven of the cops.

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