Authorities in Illinois said they’re investigating after two families filed a lawsuit alleging that police misidentified a hospitalized man who complete strangers ultimately took off life support as a result of their mixup.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police discovered Elisha Brittman, 69, unconscious under a vehicle on April 29. Brittman was reportedly facially-disfigured, had no identification, and was naked.
Local police are accused of not fingerprinting Brittman and instead relying on photos to misidentify him as Alfonso Bennett. Citing the lawsuit, the Chicago Tribune reported that Brittman was listed as “John Doe” for two weeks while in a coma at Mercy Hospital until they used a mugshot to erroneously determine he was Brittman.
To say that we currently have questions is an understatement. We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident – from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members. Details to follow as we learn more. https://t.co/OUGp0CRPVI
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) June 13, 2019
Based on the police’s determination, hospital staff reportedly contacted Bennett’s family, who said they didn’t believe the hospitalized man was their relative. Meanwhile, the deceased man’s niece, Mioshi Brittman, said she contacted police shortly after her uncle’s disappearance and was told to file a missing persons report—something she claimed she never received.
“We called the morgues. We called the hospital—Mercy,” Mioshi explained, according to WBBM. “We called them! We called County! We called everywhere!”
Bennett’s sister, Rosie Brooks, said hospital staff repeatedly told them that they didn’t recognize the facially-disfigured man due to being in denial. The family ultimately agreed to take the man off life support and place in hospice care, resulting in his death three days later.
Brooks recalled arranging Bennett’s funeral when her brother walked through her front door. The Tribune reported that fingerprints later confirmed that the man in the morgue was Elisha.
On Wednesday, the two families appeared together at attorney Channon Lamber’s office and announced they’ve filed a joint lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital. The suit accuses police and the hospital of willful misconduct and negligence and seeks damages for emotional trauma caused by Elisha’s wrongful death, according to the Sun-Times.
“[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,” the attorney said. “For John Doe to sit for six days with no one knowing who he is… it’s unconscionable.”
Further, Bennett’s disability and social security checks were reportedly stopped after he was misidentified. WBBM wrote that his benefits were restored after they ran a story on the ordeal.
Confirming to the Tribune that they’ve opened a death investigation, Chicago police said they don’t fingerprint people unless they’re arrested due to privacy concerns. They also claimed that they referred to an array of mugshots and, with hospital staff, determined that the injured man was Bennett.
“To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted. “We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident—from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members.”
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[Featured image: Elisha Brittman/WBBM video screengrab]