Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Boston Police

Shayne Stilphen died in police custody in June, and his family alleges officers ignored obvious signs that he was in urgent medical distress

A judge Wednesday denied a motion filed by two Boston police officers seeking to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that they failed to provide medical care to a prisoner in their custody who died of a drug overdose in June of 2019.

The family of Shayne Stilphen filed a lawsuit in June against the Boston Police Department and several individual officers, alleging they denied Stilphen his “constitutional right to medical care and unlawfully discriminated against [him] on the basis of his opioid use disorder (OUD) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” 

His family members say Stilphen, who was 28, had trouble standing during booking at Boston's District 4 station. He later could be seen slumped over in his cell in surveillance video obtained by NBC10 Boston. The lawsuit claims the officers failed to help him even though he was in obvious signs of urgent medical distress for hours.

In his ruling allowing the case to proceed, U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns wrote that the lawsuit includes facts that “plausibly establish both subjective and objective reasons for the officers to understand that Stilphen faced substantial risk of serious harm unless provided immediate medical care.” 

“Shayne was a beloved son, brother, and friend,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which is assisting the Stilphen family with the case. “Nothing can repair the loss his family has experienced, but we are glad that this case may proceed, because police must be held accountable for the way they treat—or fail to treat—people in their custody.” 

“Shayne had a disease, and needed help,” added Lynnel Cox, mother of Shayne Stilphen. “Shayne was my only son, and I miss his warm spirit every day. Nothing has been the same since he has died. Everyone held in police custody is somebody’s child. Nobody deserves to die like Shayne did, and no family deserves to lose their loved one like we did. It gives me hope that this case can now continue to the next stage of litigation, because I do not want anyone else to experience this constant and unbearable pain.”   

Stilphen isn’t the only one who allegedly died in similar circumstances at D-4 during an opioid overdose.

The family of Cristhian Geigel, who died in Boston police custody a month earlier, in May of 2019, filed a lawsuit against the department in September alleging that he showed obvious signs of opioid intoxication and was neglected by police officers at the station.

Cristhian Geigel, 39, died while in police custody at a Boston precinct according to a new lawsuit filed this month by Geigel’s family.

“He was completely neglected and it’s not OK” said Jannette Gonzalez, Geigel’s ex-wife.

The family says Geigel, 39, died because officers failed to seek a medical evaluation, obtain treatment or provide medical care themselves.

“You’re supposed to be responsible for those people that are in custody and they seemed like they didn’t care,” said Gonzalez, who had two children with Geigel. “They’re still hurt, they’re really angry, they want answers as to what actually happened when he passed.”

The Boston Police Department has not responded publicly to either lawsuit, saying it can’t comment on pending litigation.

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