The family of Alfonso Bennett was briefly in mourning. Bennett had been missing for several weeks when his sister Rosie Brooks received a phone call on May 13 from Mercy Hospital, looking for his relatives. She was told her brother was in the intensive care unit, and she and her sister Brenda Bennett-Johnson immediately rushed to the facility.
The man in the hospital bed, attached to a ventilator, was listed as John Doe. While neither sister could identify him, the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) had identified him as Alfonso Bennett. Hospital authorities told the women they were in “denial” about their brother’s identity. The man was found badly beaten on April 29, naked and unconscious underneath a car.
The patient’s condition continued to deteriorate, and the sisters decided to take him off life support. Bennett-Johnson was with him when he died in hospice. In an astonishing coincidence, just as they were making funeral arrangements, another sister, Yolanda, called and told Bennett-Johnson that Alfonso had just walked in the door.
Who was the person they had agreed to remove from life support, and why did the CPD think it was their brother?
Identified By Mugshot
It turns out the dead man was Elisha Brittman, 69, whose family tried to report him missing in late April. Brittman was always a reliable, punctual man, and his niece, Mioshi Brittman, knew if he hadn’t been heard from that something was wrong. She went to the CPD’s Wentworth District to file a missing person’s report, only to have “who she was” to file such a report. He did not give her the paperwork, and she resorted to searching for him daily and spreading the word about his disappearance in the neighborhood.
So how did the CPD misidentify Brittman? Alfonso Bennett had a police record and was listed as a missing person. Even though John Doe’s face was poorly disfigured from the attack, police used a mug shot of Bennett, not fingerprints of the patient, for identification. Now, both families are suing the CPD and Mercy Hospital for their emotional distress. By law, the families cannot receive more than $50,000 each, but the lawsuit requests an amount in excess of that amount.
Learned of Death on TV Newscast
Alfonso Bennett’s reappearance set forth a chain of events, including local television coverage of the incident. It was via a TV newscast that Brittman, still searching for her uncle, learned of his fate. He had been identified in the morgue through fingerprints.
Lawyers for the families want to know why Brittman was not identified through fingerprints while still a John Doe, and the lawsuit states that given Elisha Brittman’s severe facial injuries, a definitive identification was only achievable through fingerprints.
A CPD spokesperson said that, due to privacy concerns, fingerprinting was “a last resort.” However, Bennett-Johnson said that when she asked a nurse why fingerprints were not used to identify the patient, she was told, “budget cuts.”
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