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Legislation holds police officers criminally liable for denying medical care to people in custody. Photo: Getty Images
Legislation holds police officers criminally liable for denying medical care to people in custody. Photo: Getty Images

Pressley, AOC, Espaillat, and Warren push police accountability for denying medical care to people in custody

The Andrew Kearse Accountability for denial of medical care act would hold officers criminally liable for denying medical care to people in custody

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Exactly four years ago, on May 11 2017, 36-year-old Andrew Kearse, a Black resident of the Bronx, died from a heart attack in the back seat of a squad car. Dashcam footage captures him utter “I can’t breathe” as pleaded for 70 times over the course of 17 minutes before he finally fell unconscious. 

Medical investigators later concluded he would likely have survived if Schenectady, New York officers had called for medical help. The officer behind the wheel was never criminally charged. Police say Kearse tried to run from them after he was pulled over for erratic driving. 

Still, he was effectively denied his rights to due process. 

The City of Schenectady later paid Kearse’s widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse, a $1.3 million settlement, but she has been quoted saying “no amount of money is going to bring Andrew back.”

Ever since the grand jury declined to indict officer Mark Weekes for his part in Kearse’s death, she has hit the ground with Black Lives Matter and worked to pass the Andrew Kearse Act at the state level.  

It eventually did. 

The Andrew Kearse Act was signed into New York State law in June 2020, marking a major milestone in the fight for justice, but Negroni-Kearse and state leaders set their eyes to make change on the federal level. 

Rep. Ayanna Pressely is leading the push within Congress to make it a crime for federal law enforcement officers to neglect medical care for individuals in medical distress while in their custody. 

Pressley’s bill would also require training for federal law enforcement officials on assisting individuals in medical distress, and would direct the Inspectors General of the agencies that employ federal law enforcement officers to investigate potential violations and refer them to the DOJ for prosecution.

She is joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Adriano Espaillat in the House, and Senator Elizabeth Warren in the Senate.

Pressley has been working with Negroni-Kearse for over a year to bring the bill to the House floor. 

“A year ago. I told her that we can never deliver justice for Andrew. Justice would mean he'd still be alive today. But we will legislate to see accountability,” she wrote on Twitter. 

Rep. Espaillat joined Pressely on Twitter, writing: “An arrest is not a death sentence – nobody should be denied life-saving medical care while in police custody, and this bill is a step towards accountability.”

Rep. AOC, representing parts of the Bronx, has also expressed concern of federal law enforcement officials evading accountability. 

“There is so much that has to be done to reimagine a criminal justice system that is fundamentally designed to dehumanize our communities,” she wrote in the joint statement with co-sponsors. 

Negroni-Kearse has since released a statement in thanks to the ongoing pushes for police reform:

“I want to thank all of you who have shown continued support not only for me and my husband but for everyone who has fought the good fight. I want the names of Andrew Kearse, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and George Floyd to not be a passing memory but something that sticks with us through the toughest of times so that we can remember the trials and tribulations those before us have suffered.”

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