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February 23, 2013

Judge tosses suit vs. Peabody police

Ruling: Rights of man who died in custody not violated

PEABODY — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a man who died in police custody nearly five years ago, finding that while Peabody police did not follow a requirement to seek a bed in a treatment facility for the man, they did not intentionally violate his civil rights or the law.

John Lucia was 40 and a chronic alcohol user who had been put into protective custody for his own safety on the night of April 26, 2008, along with another man, Roland Gregoire, after the men were found staggering in the road and causing a disturbance.

The following morning, at around 7 a.m., Lucia was found dead in a Peabody police cell during a periodic check.

An autopsy later concluded that Lucia had ingested not only alcohol but methadone, opiates and cocaine in the period before his death, which was blamed on “acute and chronic substance abuse.”

In 2010 his daughter, Katelyn, filed suit over her father’s death, saying police violated his civil rights by failing to follow a state law that required them to contact treatment facilities to determine whether there was a spot for him. The suit also sought damages for negligence. The lawsuit named not only the city but the police department, and individuals including the then-mayor, the police chief, and four Peabody police officers.

The case was eventually moved from Salem Superior Court to U.S. District Court in Boston, because of the federal civil rights claims.

Late last month, Judge Dennis Saylor granted summary judgment in favor of the city of Peabody and all of the individuals named in the suit, dismissing the lawsuit.

In a lengthy, 25-page decision, Saylor found that while ideally, police should have called local “detox” facilities, there’s no evidence that a bed would have been available.

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