June 18, 2020

Gillibrand, Colleagues Introduce Andrew Kearse Accountability For Denial Of Medical Care Act

Legislation Will Hold Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers Criminally Liable for Denying Medical Care to People in Custody

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined colleagues to introduce the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act, which would hold law enforcement and corrections officers criminally liable for failing to obtain medical assistance for people in custody experiencing medical distress. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) led the bicameral legislation—Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) is an original co-sponsor.

On May 11, 2017, Andrew Kearse, a 36-year-old Black man and Bronx resident, died of a heart attack in the back of a police cruiser after begging a police officer for help. Instead of providing Mr. Kearse with medical assistance, the officer dismissed his pleas and waited precious minutes until after Mr. Kearse became nonresponsive to call for medical assistance. Despite failing to seek potentially life-saving care for Mr. Kearse, the officer involved was not charged with a crime. Earlier this month, Senator Gillibrand joined the widow of Mr. Kearse, Angelique Negroni-Kearse in a discussion with community leaders, Senator Warren, Congresswoman Pressley, and others whose loved ones have died in police custody.

“We can’t make Andrew Kearse’s family whole again. But we can, and we must, seek to heal these wounds as best as we can – and to work as allies to ensure no more families have to suffer like this ever again. This important legislation will help ensure that people in custody receive proper medical assistance—and hold those who deny care accountable,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As a white woman of privilege, I recognize the need to listen and act, especially during this national reckoning. The burden of enacting change cannot sit squarely on the shoulders of survivors. I won’t stop fighting alongside my colleagues until this bill becomes reality.”

On June 4, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced Senate legislation, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act, which would make the use of chokeholds or maneuvers that restrict oxygen intake or blood flow to the brain by law enforcement unlawful under federal civil rights law. The bill is the Senate version of Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which was introduced following the death of Eric Garner in 2014. Garner was choked to death by a police officer in Staten Island, NY while repeatedly crying out, “I can’t breathe.” 

The Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act would hold federal law enforcement and corrections officials criminally liable when they fail to obtain or provide medical care for individuals in their custody who are experiencing medical distress. It also requires training for federal law enforcement and corrections officials on assisting individuals in medical distress. Lastly, it directs the Inspectors General of the agencies that employ federal law enforcement officers to investigate potential violations and refer them to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed similar legislation earlier this week requiring police officers to provide medical and mental health attention to individuals in custody.

Full text of the bill is available here.