Lawsuit: Man on life support misidentified, wrong family notified
A lawsuit claims Chicago police misidentified a badly beaten man, leading to the wrong family deciding to take him off life support earlier this year.
The lawsuit was filed in Cook County last week by both the family of Elisha Brittman and the family that was wrongly told he was their relative. It contends that police failed to use fingerprints to positively identify Brittman, instead relying only on photos to misidentify him as Alfonso Bennett.
Brittman, 69, was found naked and beaten underneath a car near 47th Street and Wabash Avenue in Bronzeville on April 29, according to the lawsuit. He was taken to Mercy Hospital and listed as John Doe for two weeks until police used a mugshot to identify him, even though his face was badly disfigured by the beating, the lawsuit states.
Hospital staff then reached out to Bennett’s family, who said they told doctors and nurses that they did not believe the man in a coma in intensive care was their relative.
“I said, ‘How did you all verify that this is Alfonso Bennett?’” Rosie Brooks, Bennett’s sister, said at a news conference Wednesday. “They said, ‘Through the Chicago Police Department.’”
Brooks said her family was repeatedly told by hospital staff that they didn’t recognize Bennett because they were in denial. Eventually, though, the family agreed to take him off life support on the advice of doctors and place him in hospice care.
Brooks said the family was with him when he died three days later. After they made funeral arrangements, Brooks said Alfonso Bennett walked through his sister’s front door. In the meantime, the man who died was identified at the morgue through fingerprints as Brittman.
Brooks said both families are angry that police did not do more.
“They find a guy naked, beat up, under a car, no ID and just take him to Mercy,” Brooks said. “My thing is if it had been a different ZIP code, would it have made a difference? Because you have a John Doe, no ID, naked and under a car, wouldn’t you want to know how he got under the car? Who put him under there? What happened?
“To me that means black lives don’t matter,” she continued. “You carried him to Mercy, didn’t even know who he was and didn’t even take the time to find out. You should have fingerprinted him then.”
Chicago police said they don’t fingerprint people unless they’ve been arrested because it is a privacy issue. In this case, they provided an array of mugshots to the hospital and, with hospital employees, decided the man in the hospital bed looked like Bennett.
The Police Department said it has now opened a death investigation.
“To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” the department said in a statement. “We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident — from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members.”
WGN-TV contributed to this report.