A lawsuit filed by the family of a Chicago woman who died in a fatal drunk-driving crash accuses Cook County Sheriff's officers of inappropriately removing her clothing and taking nude photos of her dead body on the roadside — and the trial is set to begin next Monday.
Jessica Mejia, 20, was killed on Dec. 31, 2009. She was riding in a car being driven by her ex-boyfriend Nicholas Sord, whose blood alcohol content was almost three times the legal limit, when he crashed into a light pole. Sord is serving a 56-month prison sentence for the DUI.
Members of Mejia's family filed suit against the Cook County Sheriff's Office in 2010, alleging that the officers who responded to the scene pulled Mejia from the car, stripped her of her jeans, T-shirt, and bra, and proceeded to photograph her body in front of several people.
The lawsuit states that responders "failed to treat decedent with the dignity and the respect due her by removing her clothes, by photographing her nude body in various positions none of which were required by protocol, and by allowing passersby and other responders to view her naked person."
"This was a young lady that just died and was treated with less dignity than a deer carcass you find on the side of the road," the family's attorney Don Perry told the Chicago Tribune.
Although the sheriff's office initially denied that officers had taken such photographs, calling the accusations "bizarre," it eventually said that the photographs were part of "standard operating procedure" to document the crime scene.
"The family suffered an unimaginable loss, and the crime scene photos were taken as our officers investigated this crime and were instrumental in securing a conviction against the person responsible for this tragic death," Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cara Smith stated. "In no way were these photos intended to cause harm to the family."
Perry showed the Tribune photos of the crime scene. The pictures of Mejia within the vehicle show her fully clothed. Photos taken subsequently show her laid on a tarp wearing nothing except for her lower undergarment.
Christina Mejia, the victim's mother, told the paper that she feels "violated." She saidthat locals believe that her daughter died while straddling her boyfriend and engaging in sexual behavior at the time of the crash because she was seen naked at the scene.
Before Sord pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors, his attorney claimed that Mejia "interfered with [Sord's] driving to cause the accident." Christina Mejia hopes that the family's lawsuit will help clear her daughter's name.
"(People) think my daughter died from having sex, not from somebody being drunk and killing her. Because they took these photos, by the time everybody else got to the scene, all the ambulances and everybody else, she was partially naked because they made her naked," she remarked. "So the rumors, and the allegations... they made it believable."
Christina Mejia wants an apology from the sheriff's office and an assurance that other victims will not be treated similarly.
"I don't want this to happen again," she said.