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Family files lawsuit alleging their uncle was misidentified by police — and pulled off life support

The families of Elisha Brittman and Alfonso Bennett meet at attorney Cannon Lambert’s office to announce the filing of a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital after Elisha was misidentified by police and pulled off life support by a family that was not his.
Annie Geng/Sun-Times

When her uncle Elisha failed to return home one April evening, Mioshi Brittman became concerned.

She knew it was unlike her 69-year-old uncle. Worried, Brittman went to the Chicago Police Department’s Wentworth District to file a missing-person report — only to be rebuked.

“[The police officer] just asked me, who was I to make a missing person report. And I said something is wrong. My uncle hasn’t been home,” Brittman recalls. “Never gave me a report.”

Brittman knew then that she “wasn’t going to get much from the police,” so she took matters into her own hands, searching the “alleys and streets” in her Grand Boulevard neighborhood.

“It wasn’t just I just searched for him one day. It was every day,” she said. “If I get off from work — keep searching. Talking with someone after work — ‘did you call, did you see?’”

One of the streets Brittman searched, although too late, was 47th Street and Wabash Avenue, where Elisha would be found under a vehicle by Chicago police the morning of April 29, unconscious, unclothed and unidentifiable.

In a winding string of events, Chicago police would allegedly misidentify a facially disfigured and ID-less Elisha as the also-missing Alfonso Bennett. Mercy Hospital is alleged to have authorized Bennett’s family to remove Elisha from life support, and Elisha would die — without his family knowing.

Now, the Brittmans and Bennetts demand action.

On Wednesday, eight members of the Brittman family and four members of the Bennett family met at their attorney Cannon Lambert’s office to announce the filing of a joint lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital.

The suit alleges willful misconduct and negligence by the Chicago Police Department and Mercy Hospital, causing emotional trauma for both families and resulting in the wrongful death of Elisha.

Because Elisha had no identification on him, the lawsuit says Chicago police had used a mugshot to attempt to identify Elisha, despite the fact that his face was severely disfigured from injuries.

The identification occurred two weeks after he was initially found unconscious on the street; Elisha remained in Mercy Hospital’s intensive-care unit as a John Doe until then.

The lawsuit argues that given Elisha’s state of injury, police should have used fingerprinting instead of a mugshot to offer a “definitive” identification.

“[Elisha] was so badly beaten that comparing a mugshot to his badly beaten face was virtually worthless. It would have been easy to fingerprint. It’s something that the police can do,” said Lambert. “For John Doe to sit for six days with no one knowing who he is … it’s unconscionable.”

Jessica Rocco, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department, told the Chicago Sun-Times that it is standard protocol to use “all methods possible to identify a subject.”

She added that fingerprinting is a “last resort” due to privacy concerns.

“Since the fingerprints are recorded under a database, and the person is not in custody, we try to exhaust other means first,” Rocco said.

After Elisha’s misidentification on May 13, Mercy Hospital staff reached out to Alfonso’s sister, Rosie Brooks, to tell her that her brother was in their care.

When Brooks first saw the man she was told was her brother, she “couldn’t take it.”

“It was just shocking to see this body with all these machines going in,” she said. “How could anyone beat a person so bad?”

Brooks expressed immediate doubts to hospital staff that the John Doe was Alfonso.

She recalls asking Mercy staff, “‘How did you all verify that this was Alfonso Bennett?’ They said, ‘through the Chicago Police Department.’”

“I said, ‘Doc, I understand what you’re saying. But I cannot recognize him as my brother.’”

Even so, Brooks and her sisters, Yolanda Harvey and Brenda Bennett-Johnson, alleged that they were repeatedly told by workers at Mercy that they were simply in “denial,” which was why they couldn’t recognize Alfonso.

Although the lawsuit asks for payment to both families in excess of $50,000 — the jurisdictional limit in Cook County — no amount of money can assuage the families’ concerns.

And for the Brittman family, perhaps the worst part was that it was neither CPD nor Mercy that informed them of their uncle’s ultimate fate — it was a local CBS TV newscast.

“We never knew anything,” Mioshi Brittman said, shaking her head. “We never had an idea, a clue, of what had happened to my uncle until it hit the news media.”

The lawsuit now waits for a response from the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital. According to CPD, the investigation into Elisha’s incident is open.

The Sun-Times reached out to Mercy Hospital. They did not respond for comments.