Irene Chavez’s sister sues city, police officers over in-custody death

The lawsuit claims the officers denied Chavez basic medical care after she repeatedly asserted she was a veteran dealing with PTSD, and an officer escalated the tension after aggressively shouting at Chavez.

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Iris Chavez, sister of Irene Chavez, speaks at a press conference announcing developments in the Irene Chavez case at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic. Tuesday, February 22, 2022.

Iris Chavez talked Tuesday about her sister Irene Chavez, who died while in Chicago police custody.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The sister of a woman found hanged inside a South Side police station filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Chicago and the 10 police officers involved with her arrest.

“Irene [Chavez] died because CPD officers failed to recognize her humanity, refused to accommodate her mental illness and refused to treat her as if her life mattered,” said Sheila Bedi, the attorney representing Chavez’s sister Iris Chavez.

The lawsuit claims the officers violated the American With Disabilities Act when they arrested Chavez on Dec. 18 and denied her basic medical care after she repeatedly asserted she was a veteran dealing with PTSD and an officer escalated the tension after aggressively shouting at Chavez.

Bedi played the final moments of Chavez’s life captured on a police-worn body camera and pointed out the officer’s disregard for Chavez’s well-being. As the video played, Iris Chavez clutched her chest, peered closer to the screen and later wiped tears from her eyes.

“You just saw how Chicago Police Department officers had multiple opportunities to protect Irene — they could’ve accommodated her disability by taking her to a hospital instead of arresting her,” Bedi said. “Once she arrived at District 3, clearly in distress, they could’ve secured her mental health services, they could’ve gotten her counseling, they could’ve again transported her to the hospital.”

Bedi said officers could have placed her in a cell that didn’t have any suicide hazards or paper blocking the window so they could keep a better eye on her.

“Their actions and inactions lead to her death,” Bedi said.

A Chicago police spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Attorney Sheila A. Bedi speaks at a press conference announcing developments in the Irene Chavez case at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic. Tuesday, February 22, 2022.

Attorney Sheila A. Bedi announced Tuesday the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Chicago and 10 police officers in the death of Irene Chavez.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Irene Chavez grew up in Chicago and was a decorated military veteran who served in combat zones across the world. Her time overseas ultimately impacted her life at home where she developed post-traumatic stress disorder and “struggled with alcohol dependency.”

She aspired to farm on her family land in Mexico, but that dream would never come true.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released arrest reports and videos last week that showed Chavez’s arrest and interactions with police officers. She was arrested for simple battery after a dispute turned physical inside Jeffery Pub in South Shore.

Iris Chavez recalled how her sister believed people deserved multiple chances in life but concluded that “humans are not reliable.”

“It hurts a whole lot more than I could ever be angry because you know anger, it could really get pushed over by a couple laughters. Maybe a vacation or two,” Iris Chavez said. “But hurt, it rushes like a volcano and you’re never really ready for it.”

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