After death of Vermont mother, family sues Springfield police for records
The family of a 30-year-old Vermont mother whose death notice detailing her long struggle with opioid addiction gained national attention last month is suing Springfield police in an attempt to force the release of information about her final days.
Madelyn Linsenmeir died while in custody on Oct. 7, more than a week after Springfield police arrested her on outstanding warrants, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Hampden Superior Court.
Her mother and a sister now are seeking information that would help her family better understand what happened after Linsenmeir was arrested and later hospitalized.
The complaint describes in heart-wrenching detail Linsenmeir’s deteriorating health in the day before her late September arrest, including a text to her mother where she wrote, “I am dying.”
The lawsuit states Linsenmeir’s family requested records from Springfield police on Oct. 15, and that the department and the city of Springfield “unlawfully failed to respond to that request and have unlawfully failed to produce any responsive records, such as any audio visual recordings of Madelyn’s booking process.”
The complaint also argues that it is in the public interest for families to learn the circumstances leading to the death of a loved one and that police be “accountable for their treatment of sick or injured prisoners.”
Linsenmeir’s mother and sister, who live in Vermont, are being represented by a legal team that includes the ACLU of Massachusetts and Prisoners’ Legal Services. The city of Springfield and its police department are named as defendants in the complaint.
Ryan Walsh, a spokesman for the Springfield police, said Tuesday, “The matter is under investigation and we cannot comment specifically on the lawsuit.”
Messages left with the Springfield mayor’s office were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Linsenmeir’s family is seeking all documents, audio and video recordings of her arrest, booking, and detention, including records of phone calls made or received by her on or after Sept. 29, and all audio and video recordings of such calls, according to the complaint.
In a statement, Linsenmeir’s family said they are “heartbroken to have lost our beloved Madelyn.”
“We are also deeply troubled both by her death in custody and the Springfield Police Department’s lack of transparency about what happened to her,” said the statement, which was released through their attorneys.
The statement continued, “We know she was refused medical attention upon booking and was rushed to the hospital five days later but are left to draw our own conclusions about what occurred in between. We have a right to know what happened to our daughter and sister while she was in the care of the SPD and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”
Linsenmeir, according to the suit, became addicted after using prescription opioids recreationally during high school. She repeatedly sought treatment, and repeatedly relapsed, the filing said.
In August, she left a Vermont treatment facility and made her way to Massachusetts, the complaint said. Her departure is thought to have triggered the issuance of a probation related arrest warrant by New Hampshire courts, according to the suit.
On Sept. 28, she sent her mother a text saying “I need to go to the hospital I am dying i weigh 90 pounds mom I need you,” according to Monday’s court filing.
That same day, she also stated in texts she was hesitant to seek help at a hospital because “the hospital checks for warrants” and that she did not want “to go to jail [like] this.”
Springfield police arrested Linsenmeir the next day, Sept. 29, according to the suit. According to a police log, among the charges she was arrested for included a fugitive from justice warrant and two default warrants.
Shortly after her arrest, Linsenmeir was allowed to call her mother. During the call, she was distraught and said she was not receiving medical attention, according to a statement from attorneys representing her relatives. During the phone conversation, “a police officer on the line refused to provide medical attention and even made a sarcastic comment after Linsenmeir’s mother reiterated that her daughter needed care,” according to a statement from the family’s lawyers.
Linsenmeir was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. On Oct. 4, she was rushed to the Baystate Medical Center and admitted to an intensive care unit. Within a day, she was intubated and sedated. Days later, she died. She was the mother of a son, Ayden, who was born in 2014.
Later that month, a death notice, written by her sister Kate O’Neill, frankly described Linsenmeir’s struggle with opioid addiction and criticized the “dehumanizing treatment that people” struggling with opioids often face.
“To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction they stopped seeing her,” read part of the obituary. “And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient.”
The notice gained traction online; it was shared on Twitter by both New Hampshire senators, the US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and Ivanka Trump, the president’s adviser and daughter.