In the early hours of December 18, Irene Chavez was arrested at a gay bar on the South Side of Chicago. Before noon, she was pronounced dead after police found her hanging by her shirt in her cell.
The 33-year-old Chavez had been arrested for an alleged misdemeanor of simple battery. She supposedly got drunk at the bar and was asked to leave. She was subsequently arrested. Her grief-stricken family is demanding answers, which they say have not been forthcoming.
A Very Empty Story
The questions the family wants answers including why Irene was unable to make a phone call to loved ones. Irene suffered from PTSD, and they want to know her mental state at the time of her arrest.
Police notified the family by knocking on the door of Chavez’ younger sister Iris and telling her that Irene was picked up and found hung. Iris described it as “a very empty story.”
A Military Veteran
Irene Chavez was a lesbian of Black and Puerto Rican descent. She spent six years in the U.S. Army, including tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. At the time of her death, she worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
In a GoFundMe campaign to pay off debts not covered by Irene’s insurance, Iris asks people not to tell her children, Irene’s beloved nephews, about her death until after Christmas. “This could scar their holiday season forever at this age/milestone,” she wrote.
According to Iris, she was initially told by the police officers that Irene was not handcuffed because she was a veteran. Later, she was told that Irene was handcuffed.
The police incident report provided to the family is heavily redacted. It consists primarily of identifying the nine officers involved in Chavez’ arrest and detention. An attorney for the family said they want answers and are demanding the truth. He added that Chavez was loved by her family and friends and by the local LBGT community. An independent investigation of her death has been launched, he said.
Professor Sheila Bedi of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law said the Chicago Police Department has a history of using violence on non-compliant people. She notes that is especially the case with gay people and people of color, making Chavez “incredibly vulnerable when interacting with police.”
No Surveillance Cameras at the Facility
On December 27, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) reported that it was reviewing the police body camera footage from the time of her arrest. Still, there were no cameras installed at the 3rd District Tactical Office Grand Crossing police station, where she was held and hanged herself.
Chavez apparently tried to commit suicide shortly after her arrest. Police reported the attempted suicide at 3:20 a.m. She was pronounced dead at 11:30 a.m. at the University of Chicago Hospital.
No Need to Inform Public of In Custody Deaths
A COPA spokesman said that while the Chicago Police Department is required to notify the public when an officer is involved in a shooting, that is not the situation when it comes to in-custody deaths. The spokesman said that policy may be under review.
If a loved one has committed suicide in a jail, prison or lockup, we may be able to help. For more information, contact us online, or by phone 866.836.4684. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.