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Cops on the Hook for Rape They Could Have Stopped

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago police may be on the hook for releasing a white, 21-year-old mentally ill woman into a high-crime, black neighborhood where she was raped and badly brain damaged, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Former UCLA student Christina Eilman was arrested on May 7, 2006, outside Midway Airport for creating a disturbance. While waiting to board her flight home to California, Eilman was removed by airport security for behaving oddly. Once outside, Eilman walked to a nearby rail and bus terminal, and "started singing loudly, ranting about the price of oil, and screaming at other persons with her face only inches from theirs," 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner summarized.

Eilman had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year earlier after an auto accident. Having failed to take her prescribed psychotropic medicines for the last several days, Eilman was in an acute manic phase when police arrested her at the airport. She did not tell police about her condition while being arrested.

Though the arresting officer recommended that a doctor evaluate Eilman, and she had her psychotropic medications on her at the time of her arrest, the police did not summon a medical authority.

Officers also ignored warnings from her stepfather and mother, who called the station repeatedly, about Eilman's medical condition. While in custody, Eilman alternated between calm and manic conduct. She was transferred to a holding cell 7.3 miles away from Midway and later released on bond at approximately 6:30 p.m.

The station sits beside the crime-infested Robert Taylor Homes project. Sexual assaults in the area around the police station are 15 times more likely than around Midway Airport. Eilman had no cellphone and no idea where she was.

"They may as well have released her into the lion's den at the Brookfield Zoo," Posner wrote.

"She was lost, unable to appreciate her danger, and dressed in a manner that attracted attention (a cutoff top with a bare midriff, short shorts, and boots); and she is white and well off while the local population is predominantly black and not affluent, causing her to stand out as a person unfamiliar with the environment and thus potential target for crime."

Witnesses said Eilman came into a restaurant, babbling, then left and continued wandering after dark. Eilman accompanied several young men into one of the project's high-rise buildings. In apartment 702, a man named Marvin Powell forced others out of the room and raped the 21-year-old at knifepoint, according to the court.

Eilman either jumped out or was pushed from a seven-story window during the attack, causing her to shatter her pelvis, break several bones and sustain serious brain damage.

Today, Eilman has the mental capacity of a child and lives with her parents in California. Powell was convicted of kidnapping and restraining Eilman but not of sexual assault. He was recently released from state prison on parole.

Eilman's mother filed suit, naming more than a dozen Chicago police officers as defendants.

After U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall granted judgment for some of the officers, 10 of 13 officers claimed on appeal that they have qualified immunity.

After 18 months of silence, the three-judge appellate panel finally ruled in Eilman's favor, affirming that most of the officers were not eligible for qualified immunity on two of the three theories presented by Eilman's parents.

Eilman's attorneys say the officers had denied Eilman's right to medical care while in custody, placed her in gratuitous danger by releasing her when and where they did, and should have kept her in custody longer to facilitate medical care.

A reasonable jury could find Eilman suffered some injury as a result of not receiving medical care while in custody, the court ruled.

Additionally, releasing Eilman just before nightfall in a dangerous neighborhood, where sexual assaults are 15 times more likely per capita than around Midway airport, unconstitutionally increased her risk of harm.

"State actors who needlessly create risks of harm violate the due process clause by depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without process (no one offered Eilman a hearing on the question whether she should be released in a dangerous place while unable to protect herself)," Posner wrote for the court (parentheses in original).

The court rejected Eilman's final theory, however, that police were obligated to keep her in custody because of her mental state.

"Police are entitled to make custodial arrests for minor offenses, no decision of which we are aware holds that they are required to do so, whether or not the person would be better off when in custody than when free," Posner wrote.

Practical considerations and the constitutional need to provide arrestees with efficient process weigh against a "right to be detained" requirement.

"Sending even a modest fraction of arrested persons for mental-health evaluation could swamp medical facilities - police in Chicago make about 250,000 arrests annually, many for minor infractions (such as Eilman's) that ordinarily are followed by prompt release," the opinion said.

Three of the 10 appealing officers were granted immunity based on the 7th Circuit's analysis. Claims against the remaining seven will go to trial.

The Eilman family is seeking $100 million in damages. They are represented by Jeffery Singer of Segal, McCambridge, Singer, and Mahoney.

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