A family is demanding answers after a woman was found dead while in police custody

·3 min read

On Monday morning, a grieving mother knelt on the ground in tears in front of the Chicago Police Department’s District 3 headquarters. It’s where her daughter, 33-year-old Irene Chavez was found hanged a week before Christmas.

It’s also where mourners, including Chavez’s father, Daniel Chavez, her brother, Daniel Chavez Jr., and sister Iris Chavez, stood to demand answers from police officers about what happened on the night of Dec. 18.

“I want to find out why my daughter is dead,” Cynthia Chavez said. “My daughter loved everyone and she was a good person to everybody.”

For nine days, the family members said, they have wondered: Was Irene in need of mental health services? Why wasn’t she able to phone loved ones? Why was she arrested?

“I have no information, no narrative, no nothing,” Iris Chavez, 32, said. “This is a time for me and my family to be mourning her, not seeking answers.”

So far, police have given the family a redacted report.

On the night of Dec. 18 Irene Chavez was at the Jeffery Pub, a Black-owned gay bar in the South Shore neighborhood, according to her younger sister. She was intoxicated, was asked to leave, and was arrested.

The next morning, Iris Chavez said, two detectives knocked on her door.

“They told me that she was picked up and that she was found hung and that was it,” Chavez said. “It was a very empty story.”

She had many questions, including what was her sister’s mental state during and after her arrest. According to Chavez, her sister suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

But, she said, “I hit a red light, a stop sign, a door every single time.”

Iris Chavez has been seeking information about what happened between the time of her sister’s arrest and her death. She said she tried reaching the manager of the Jeffrey Pub but had no luck. The bartenders there had no information.

Christa Noel, a representative of a nonprofit organization called Women’s All Point Bulletin, which provides services to prevent violence against women during police encounters, called what happened to Irene a “crisis within the Chicago Police Department.”

“There are too many women who have been in the custody of the Chicago Police Department and have been harmed,” Noel said.

“This should not be happening,” Noel said. “This has to end.”

Andrew Stroth, a civil rights attorney who represents families nationwide whose loved ones have been killed by police, said an independent private investigation has been launched on Irene’s case.

“What we know is that Irene’s bright light was extinguished right behind us here in the custody of Chicago police,” Stroth said. “What we know is that Irene should be alive today and she’s not.”

After the news conference, the family approached the police desk to demand answers.

Then the family gathered at Rainbow Beach for a brief memorial. Candles, cards and Christmas lights were placed at what her sister said was one of her favorite places to “spend time with nature within the concrete jungle.” They released green and yellow balloons, which nodded to Irene’s love for the Green Bay Packers. White balloons remained at her memorial site, inspired by her love for the Chicago White Sox.

“Now we are here for the last time to say bye to her,” Iris Chavez said.

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