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Lowell officers on leave over woman’s death

LOWELL — The city’s top police official placed four officers on paid leave Thursday and recommended discipline for those officers and three more in the death of a woman in custody early last year.

In a letter sent Thursday to police personnel, Superintendent William M. Taylor said department employees displayed “conduct which could be described as deliberate indifference” in Alyssa Brame’s January 2013 death by alcohol poisoning.

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Brame, 31, had been arrested hours earlier on a charge of soliciting prostitution, authorities said.

“The combined investigations of the Middlesex district attorney and our own Board of Inquiry determined Ms. Brame was not given the proper medical attention that she was in obvious need of while in the custody of the Lowell Police Department,” Taylor wrote in the letter, which police provided to the Globe.

“In addition, policies and regulations of the Lowell Police Department specifically in place to prevent such a tragedy were violated,” he continued.

Through a police spokesman, Taylor declined to be interviewed Friday.

City Manager Bernard F. Lynch said in a brief City Hall interview that as the city’s appointing authority, he will chair a series of closed-door hearings in coming weeks, reviewing the actions of each officer present.

Officers found at fault in the death could lose their jobs. None of the officers’ names were released, and the manner of discipline will be determined after the hearings.

“Obviously this is a very serious matter,” Lynch said. “Really, it’s a tragedy that took place in the cellblock, and we want to make sure that everyone’s interests are protected here, especially the victim’s.”

A spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan declined to comment and referred to a statement issued on July 15, 2013, at the conclusion of the district attorney’s investigation.

In that statement, Ryan said that Brame was arrested at about 10:30 p.m. Jan 12, 2013, for offering sex in exchange for money, and that the arresting officer reported a slurring of Brame’s speech and a strong alcohol odor.

Brame had been in police custody 10 times previously, Ryan said, and was “highly intoxicated” in six of those incidents. On Jan. 12, she was intoxicated and not moving, but did not appear to have trouble breathing, Ryan said.

She was placed in a cell at about 11 p.m., Ryan said, and was found unresponsive just after midnight. Officers attempted CPR, and 14 minutes later a dispatcher requested medical assistance, according to Ryan’s statement. Emergency medical technicians initiated CPR and transported Brame to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 1:08 a.m.

Ryan declared Brame’s death accidental and said police conduct did not “rise to the level of wanton and reckless conduct that would support or warrant criminal charges.”

Brame’s mother, Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, said Friday that her daughter struggled with alcohol abuse and was homeless and undergoing outpatient alcohol rehabilitation at the time of her death.

Swiridowsky-Muckle, 58, said police were slow to release information to her and showed little compassion for the loss of her only child.

“At no point did any one of those officers even say, ‘I’d like to offer our condolences,’ ” she said.

Swiridowsky-Muckle began getting answers through the efforts of Boston civil rights lawyer Howard Friedman, she said, obtaining surveillance video showing her daughter being brought into the police station.

In the video, posted online by the Lowell Sun, officers carry a motionless Brame down a corridor by her hands and feet. They place her face-up on the floor, where she remains still as they remove her shoes and then place her in a cell.

Swiridowsky-Muckle said her daughter was “a funny, wonderful, caring individual” who moved to Lowell from rural Maine for a fresh start.

“I lost the chance of seeing her better herself,” she said. “She wasn’t a perfect person, but she was still my daughter, and a human being, and she deserved to be treated with dignity.”

Swiridowsky-Muckle said her goal now is to ensure that what happened to her daughter will not happen to another mother’s child.

“My daughter’s not the only person that got lost in life,” she said. “Policies have to change.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
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