Chicago, Feb 11: Indian community leaders from various organizations gathered in solidarity at the Indian consulate Chicago on February 8, to express concerns on the late Ms Lyvita Gomes who passed away on January 3, after a 15-day hunger strike at the Lake County Jail. Although this meeting was set by the Chicago consulate office a week ago, Consul General, Mukta Datta Tomar was not present to hear the community leaders concerns that made most of the attendees very furious! Dr Austin D'Souza Prabhu expressed his strong opinion and said that he is totally shocked to see that Consulate General had no time to attend this very serious meeting of Indian Community Leaders from Chicagoland.
Dr Austin D'Souza Prabhu welcomed the gathering followed by an invocation by Rev. Dr David V Sagar Dadipogu. About 20 community leaders and members who voluntarily attended the meeting gave self introduction. Dr Austin D'Souza Prabhu and the Funeral Director – Alfredo Miranda explained what happened to Lyvita Gomes as per the records presented by the authorities starting.
Ms Gomes' failure to appear for jury summon led to bizarre series of events leading to incarceration followed by death. However, it was not very clear if the records which were presented so far are accurate. Usha Kumaria, President of Indian Community of Niles township, Dr Kusum Patel from Chicago Pariwar, Community activist, Dr Peter Noronha, Past President of Indian Catholic Association of America, and Dr Jaychand Pallekonda, President, Indo-American Christian Federation of North America, and Queenie Mendonca, Immediate Past President, Mangalorean Konkan Christian Association, expressed their feelings and concerns.
Queenie Mendonca asked the following questions to the Consul General:
Why Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not contact Indian Embassy in October regarding Ms Gomes deportation proceedings knowing she was an Indian Citizen, she was suicidal and her visa had expired?
When there was no flight risk, why they didn't release her on personal recognizance irrespective of her visa status.
Why the authorities didn't contact her family sooner through her immigration papers when she was incapacitated.
Three days after taking her into custody, they move her to medical unit to observe and validate hunger strike, doctor is notified of hunger strike on 4th day, Dec 18th. Why didn't they provide hydration? 5th day (Dec 19) they appointed public defender but they fail to inform him of her hunger strike. Why did they wait for 5 days after taking her into custody to appoint a public defender? Why not before?
On Dec 23, Nurse says Medical POD reported seeing Ms Gomes drinking water but POD log doesn't indicate the same... what really went on inside the jail? What is the real truth?
Dec 27, after 13 days, medical doctor says she is deemed medically stable, but the psychiatrist says she is mentally incapable to participate in her treatment plan and on the same day the Lake County sheriff's office urge the public defender to visit Ms Gomes and also inform about her hunger strike.... all of a sudden it seems like all are interested or all are scared! And within 48hrs she was taken to Vista Medical Center with organs failure...
Why didn't the Indian doctor who was treating her take some initiative to contact Indian community to provide her some assistance in contacting her family?
What was the purpose of keeping her in the jail's medical unit for a week under close observation without providing her intravenous feeding knowing she was dehydrated and mentally incapable to make any decisions? On Dec 18, her weight was 146lbs, on Dec 23, in 5 days she lost 10lbs and on Dec 28, her weight is 128lbs. Total of 18lbs weight loss within 10days under close observation in the jails medical unit?!! Were they just watching how an incapacitated woman dies with hunger strike? Was it really hunger strike? This is human cruelty. People and law here treat animals better than they treated Ms Gomes!! Why did they wait till the organs failure to provide her treatment?
Why the consulate office didn't contact the authorities even after learning she was an Indian citizen, had expired visa, and fatal hunger strike? What kind of communication protocol does the Indian consulate has with US Government in these kinds of situations? Was the protocol followed by the local authorities?
Was she given fair share of justice in the jail regardless of her age, ethnic, racial, national origin, sexual orientation, mental illness or any disability?
Why Ms Gomes was taken to the hospital as a prisoner and then secure personal recognizance bond after transporting to the Vista Medical Center at a critical stage and why not when she was stable?
Finally, if she was given proper hydration on time, would she be still alive today? How and where did the justice system fail?
Though immediate answers to the above questions couldn't be provided, Consul General and the lawyer, Jan Susler, appointed by the Gomes family requested Queenie Mendonca to forward her above questions for their perusal in Gomes case.
The group demanded why the authorities failed to inform Indian Consulate, why Consulate office did not take any action after reading the report on Chicago Tribune on January 16, what actions has been taken by Consulate’s office to get answers from authorities, what Indian Embassy is doing on this issue from Washington DC, was she abused in jail by officers, etc., etc.
Consul General's office has requested the Federal office why the appropriate authorities didn't contact their office when they learnt herLyvita Gomes visa had expired and why none of the authorities informed and/or contacted the Consulate General's office soon after she was taken into custody. Consul General's office is anticipating an answer from the Federal soon. As per the Vienna convention the all authorities must contact the Consulate office within few days after taking into custody, which the system failed in Ms Gomes case.
Jan Susler, one of the attorneys appointed by the Gomes family from the People's Law office was present. She informed they have started the investigation and they are following appropriate procedure to obtain the medical records from the hospital and detail records from the Lake county jail during Ms Gomes incarceration. "Is it possible for a person who is an ardent devotee of Catholic faith which is against taking their own life would go on hunger strike to end her life?" Miranda voiced his opinion. The solution to despair and hopelessness is not suicide, but faith in God, which Ms Gomes believed. "It is pretty clear that she wouldn't go against God's will, Alfredo Miranda said. Miranda, a non-Indian, took care of all the funeral expenses and decided to give Ms Gomes a proper farewell as a concerned community member of the Lake County. He was the first person to see Ms Gomes place where she lived and her place was full of religious books, novenas, church bulletins, and a hand written prayer to help her alcoholic friend he said.
It is not very clear if Ms Gomes was on hunger strike or what really went on inside the jail. It was clear she was not suicidal after taking her into custody since she repeatedly informed the authorities she was not suicidal. The question is – what was the reason behind hunger strike - for which there is no answer. Was this some kind of abuse inside the jail – yes, apparently she had tenting skin - sign of extreme dehydration. Jails medical staff was ordered to check her pulse every 4 hours - 11 days before she passed away.
Consul Gagnte thanked all for joining in solidarity as concerned community citizens and conveyed their sympathies to the Gomes family. Consul, Suresh Menon, while explaining the Consul General’s roles said that the Chicago office has nine states under its jurisdiction and almost every day they receive various cases of deaths, arrests and accidents. Most of the cases they handle cannot be made public for various personal reasons. They did contact the Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, but since they are not an immediate family member(s) they were unsuccessful in obtaining any information. In fact, the consulate office couldn't even obtain the phone number of Lyvita's immediate family to offer their help in transporting Ms Gomes remains to India. Finally, one of the community person provided Ms Gomes family e-mail to the Consulate office.
After almost two hour long meeting with three consuls, it was ended with vote of thanks from the leader of the pack thanking all community leaders for spending their valuable time to attend this meeting apart from their work and family responsibilities. He also thanked all three consuls for attending this meeting and listening to the demands of community leaders to seek justice from authorities. Group felt that they should stay away from all caste, creed, religion, politics and language and come together as a team to voice and fight for justice in the near future so that all authorities will know that there are concerned people who watch injustice and mistreatment to any Indian citizens in the US and demand justice.
Following leaders were present:
Austin D'Souza Prabhu, PhD, Organizer
Queenie Mendonca, Immediate Past President, MKCA, USA
Susan Pereira, President, Goan Organization of America
Conceicao Mesquita, Community Activist
Godwin Rego, President, Mangalorean Konkan Christian Association, USA
Rev. Dr David V Sagar Dadipogu, Pastor, Antioch Telugu Baptist Church
Dr Jayachand Pallekonda, President, Indo-American Christian Federation of North America
Varghese Chacko, Community Activist, President and CEO of Prompt Services
Dr Peter Noronha, Past President, India Catholic Association of America
Usah Kamaria, President of the Indian Community of Niles Township
Theresa D’Souza, North Sector Coordinator, District 1A Lions Clubs International
Alfredo Miranda, Director, Miranda Funeral Services
Jan Susler, Attorney hired by Gomes Family
Dr Kusum Patel, Global Gayatri Pariwar
Hector Lobo, Past President, India Catholic Association of America
Judy Menezes, Past President, Goan Organization of America
Herald Figueiredo, American Cochin Club
Biji Philip, American Cochin Club
Jean Puthenparambil, Keralite American Association
Shirley Saldanha, Past President, India Catholic Association of America