CHICAGO -- A Chicago man who is HIV-positive and was detained for seven days in 2010 at the Bureau County Jail in Princeton, Illinois today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the denial of prescribed medications to manage his condition. The lawsuit today comes nearly a year after the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois sent a letter to Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson asking the sheriff's department to provide adequate training and services to insure that the denial of these necessary medications did not occur again. After a year with no response, lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois have filed the lawsuit on behalf of Arick Buckles. The federal lawsuit was filed today in the Central District of Illinois in Peoria.
Mr. Buckles was detained in the Bureau County facility from September 29 through October 6, 2010. Despite his repeated requests to see a doctor and get access to his medications, Mr. Buckles received no medication during his seven-day detention.
Arick Buckles works as an HIV/AIDS counselor in Chicago. He was detained in Bureau County on an outstanding warrant for a non-violent crime. He was taken into custody as he was clearing up an outstanding matter in DuPage County -- part of a process that he undertook to clean up his life and take responsibility for past criminal activity. According to the lawsuit, as Mr. Buckles was being processed into the Bureau County Jail, he notified staff, including a nurse, that he was HIV-positive and needed medication for his treatment.
Because of his work as a counselor to others, Mr. Buckles knew these medications were life-saving and that an interruption in the HIV treatment was dangerous. Mr. Buckles repeated his concern each day to jail officials. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services own guidelines note that successful HIV treatment which reduces “HIV-associated morbidity and prolong(s) the duration and quality of survival” requires adherence to the prescribed medication regimens.
A friend, a minister in Chicago, and Mr. Buckles' partner phoned the jail and spoke to officials about the critical need to get him the HIV medications. An official from an HIV/AIDS program in Chicago faxed the jail a list of the prescribed medicines as well as the name of Mr. Buckles' physician and office phone number.
"I told the staff each day about my HIV status and the need for my medications," said Mr. Buckles. "The lack of action caused me enormous anxiety and concern. We had hoped that the letter we sent a year ago would spur the jail to change policies. Instead they have stonewalled.
"Records obtained by the ACLU of Illinois make clear that Bureau County officials were motivated not by concerns for Mr. Buckles' health, but by cost concerns. The Jail's Medical Progress Notes describe the medications that Mr. Buckles takes each day as "costly" and "only issues monthly." The staff also said that as part of the medical plan that they would "(n)otfiy the attorney of Bureau County . . . update him with this medical info that would be very costly for the Bureau County Sheriff's Office."
"Bureau County had an obligation under the Constitution to provide the medical care necessary to protect the health of Arick Buckles," said John Knight, LGBT Project Director at the ACLU of Illinois. "They failed. They elevated concerns about costs and price of health care above the need for health care."
"We asked the Sheriff to take steps to fix this problem a year ago, and he offered no response," added Knight. "A lawsuit was the only step we had to ensure that this never happens again."
"It is essential that HIV-positive persons receive the medications they need when they are detained," added Knight. "We hope the result of this case will be changes in Bureau County to make sure that no one lives through the seven day nightmare that Arick experienced."
Read the complaint (PDF).
The ACLU of Illinois is being assisted in this matter by the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn LLP, especially Michael Brody, Samuel Park and Dan Hoang. Winston & Strawn LLP is assisting with this matter as a part of its pro bono program. # # #