NEWS & LETTERS, July 2004

Did the Chicago police murder May Molina Ortiz?

Chicago--May Molina, 55, was a founder of the organization Families of the Wrongfully Convicted. She worked hard to free her own son, Salvador Ortiz, and others who have suffered wrongful convictions at the hands of corrupt and brutal police officers. May has been a fixture at all kinds of activities for social justice from opposition to police brutality and the death penalty to anti-war marches.

May's life ended in a holding cell at the Belmont and Western police station here on Wednesday, May 26. She had been detained by police Monday night, along with her son Michael Ortiz, on the suspicion of possession of a controlled substance.

While May was in custody police denied requests by her lawyer and family members to deliver her medicine or provide her with medical attention. May was wheelchair-bound, diabetic, asthmatic and had a thyroid condition. She was thrown into a naked cell with a steel bench, for over a day, before being found dead.

The police leaked word to the press that bags of "heroin" had been found in May's apartment and that she had a number of packets of heroin in her esophagus and stomach when she died. From the first this strained credibility, in simple physiological terms--how could something still be in one's esophagus after more than 24 hours?

Furthermore, the substance that police had claimed was heroin tested negative, and turned out to be just candle-making supplies. Michael Ortiz was released without charges on June 16--he had been cruelly and pointlessly held during his mother's funeral, which he was forced to miss.

May's death certificate says "Pending toxicology report" and her family was told that it may take up to six months to complete that report.

There are a lot of unanswered questions and a call has gone out for an independent investigation.

May's family and supporters attempted to deliver a letter requesting this to United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, but it was refused delivery by his office. A series of vigils and demonstrations have been held here since May's death.

This is a truly defining moment in the movement against police brutality and corruption in Chicago--something that the City surely realizes, as well. Long-time activist Mary L. Johnson, who supported the call for an independent investigator, reported that her daughter-in-law's home was broken into by police who said that they were looking for drugs, which they didn't find. But they did hold guns on the small children in the house.

Michael Ortiz and many others have made the point that the struggle for justice for Salvador Ortiz will continue.

--Gerard Emmett

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