Family awarded $1M after May Molina, 55, died in police lockup

November 4, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Before her arrest, the 55-year-old Molina had ingested several packets of heroin. But late Monday, a jury awarded her family $1 million in damages.

May Molina was a vocal critic of police, often protesting outside police stations. But in May 2004, she found herself inside a police lockup.

"I feel my mother was vindicated today. She helped a lot of people in life, and now she's going to help a lot of people in death," said Salvador Ortiz, son.

Nearly 30 hours after being arrested on drug charges, the 55-year-old Molina was found dead at a North Side police station. Relatives say Molina was denied access to her medication, despite suffering from a list of ailments.

"She said, according to the police records, 'I do take medication. I'm a diabetic. I have a thyroid issue. I need my medication. I have serious medical problems.' That's what their forms show," said Jon Loevy, Molina family attorney.

"They held her for so long, and all her pleas just fell on deaf ears," said Ortiz.

The medical examiner ruled Molina's death accidental, and an autopsy revealed she had ingested several packets of heroin-- allegedly to hide the drugs when police entered her home with a warrant.

But lawyers for Molina's family argued whether her death was caused by the drugs was inconclusive-- and irrelevant.

"You can't just deny someone medical attention. If they're in distress, and they need it, you can't ignore people," said Loevy.

At the time of Molina's death, police said they had checked on her every 15 minutes and she never said she felt ill.

If she had, police say, the department's policy states Molina would have been taken to a hospital. But in their lawsuit, Molina's attorneys said police rarely do that.

"A lot of people that have serious medical needs aren't getting their medication, and that's happening systematically. And that's really the significance of this verdict is that the city's policy and practice is unconstitutional and needs a change," said Loevy.

The jury's $1 million award falls short of the $9 million Molina's family had sought. A spokesperson for the city's legal department said the city is disappointed with the verdict and is reviewing whether to appeal.

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