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Case of woman found hanged in police station being investigated

The case of a woman who was found hanged at a Chicago police station is being investigated as the family demands answers to her death.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is looking into the death of Irene Chavez, 33. Her relatives on Monday, December 27, held a demonstration at the District 3 police station in Greater Grand Crossing. A week before Christmas, Chavez was arrested for simple battery at the Jeffery Pub in South Shore.

She was placed in a cell at the District 3 police station located at 7040 S. Cottage Grove. Two detectives showed up at Chavez’s home to inform her relatives that she had been found hanged in her cell.

During the demonstration, relatives created a temporary memorial to Irene Chavez outside the police station.

Chavez’s sister, Iris Chavez, said police gave her a heavily redacted report the morning her sister died.

She said police told her that her sister had hanged herself with a shirt. “I asked detectives questions, and I hit a red light, a stop sign, a door every single time,” Iris Chavez told reporters.

In response to Chavez’s relative’s demands for answers, COPA officials said they have made contact with the family and released this statement “The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is currently investigating the death of Ms. Irene Chavez, which occurred December 18, 2021, following a medical emergency while in custody at the 3rd District Police Station.“Ms. Chavez was arrested after being involved in an incident, which occurred at the Jeffery Pub Tavern located at 7041 S. Jeffery Boulevard.

IRIS CHAVEZ
IRIS CHAVEZ, the sister of Irene Chavez, who was found hanged in a cell, speaks to the crowd of protesters, media and family attending the press conference on Dec. 27, 2021. (Photo by Marcus Robinson)

“COPA received notification from Chavez’s home of an attempted suicide by Ms. Chavez at a 3rd District Tactical Office on December 18, 2021, at 3:20 a.m. Ms. Chavez was then transported to the University of Chicago Hospital in critical condition. COPA later received an updated notification from the Department that Ms. Chavez was deceased at 11:30 a.m. “COPA immediately began its investigation once notified of the incident. Investigators were present for the autopsy conducted by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

As a result of any death in police custody, COPA will provide notification to the State’s Attorney’s Office and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for possible criminal review.

“Although in the early stages of the investigation, COPA Investigators have also obtained and reviewed the body-worn video and requested POD video of the initial arrest of Ms. Chavez, who was then placed in police custody. At this time, there is no video surveillance of Ms. Chavez in the 3rd Police District Tactical Office where the alleged suicide attempt occurred; however, COPA will continue to conduct its investigation to determine if video captures the alleged suicide attempt and actions by officers in the immediate aftermath.”

During the demonstration Monday, Irene’s mother, Cynthia Chavez, dropped to her knees and prayed on the wet pavement.

Iris Chavez is asking anyone with information about her sister to come forward. “If you danced with her that night at Jeffery Pub or just bought her a drink or she bought you one, come forward. Nobody is giving me answers,” Iris Chavez said.

Iris Chavez said her sister Irene was a U.S. military veteran who had been getting treatment for PTSD. She had been out of the military for about three years and was between jobs after recently moving back to Chicago from Texas, her sister said. Friends say Irene had held several jobs after leaving the military and hoped to work full time in community farming.

“What we know is, Irene died in the custody of the Chicago police. What we know is, Irene Chavez was a bright light in this community, serving our country …, loved by her family and friends, loved by the LGBT community,” said Andrew Stroth, a civil rights attorney working with the Chavez family.

Stroth called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown to help the Chavez family in their search for answers.

“We know there is video that exists,” Stroth said. “We know Iris shouldn’t get a redacted police report.

The family wants answers. The family is demanding truth.

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