The family of a man who died in the custody of the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, police department (FPD) has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Defendants in the case include the FPD itself, Chief of Police Robert DeMoura, the city of Fitchburg and eight specific police officers.

23-year-old Tavarez Perez of Fitchburg was allegedly observed swallowing containers of cocaine and heroin shortly before police arrested him on August 1, 2008. He was held for the weekend with an arraignment scheduled for the following Monday, but he suffered a fatal overdose while in his cell on Sunday.

The nature of the case revolves around a charge of flagrant and willful neglect on the part of the officers who took Perez into custody.

In short, the police department shows no records whatsoever that Perez received any medical attention after being brought into the jail. This is despite the fact that multiple officers attest that they witnessed him swallowing the aforementioned drugs. Drugs can be stored in the human stomach for a brief period in small bags, but eventually these bags will burst if not removed, and the amounts swallowed were clearly significant. Yet again, nothing was done to remove the drugs from Perez’s system.

Further, one of the officers making the arrest, Detective John Maki, was involved in a prior case where a suspect had swallowed a large quantity of drugs. The suspect in this incident became severely ill and had to be hospitalized. Since Maki had prior experience in the case, the Perez attorneys state that it should have been clear to him that Perez would be in similar danger, and that the detective therefore willfully disregarded his duty to maintain the safety of his detainee.

There is very little doubt that Perez broke the law, and bears a degree of responsibility for his actions. However, police are responsible for the safety of those in their custody, and the willful neglect of this responsibility, especially when one of the officers involved had experience in this very same situation, is nothing short of atrocious.