Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley Propose Bill Making Police Liable for Not Providing Medical Care to Those in Custody

Massachusetts legislators Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley announced a bill that holds law enforcement officers criminally liable if they don't provide medical care to individuals in their custody.

Several Democratic lawmakers in Congress responded to George Floyd's May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police by proposing legislation that requires federal law enforcement to provide medical attention to any suspect experiencing health concerns while in custody.

The bill, the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medicare Care Act of 2020, is named after a 36-year-old black man in New York who died of a heart attack in the back of a police cruiser in 2017 after begging unresponsive Schenectady officers for help.

Warren and Pressley's proposed legislation would only apply to law enforcement employees on the federal level, including the Bureau of Prisons.

The bill says federal officers risk up to one year in prison and fines if they fail to help any individual who "suffers unnecessary pain, injury, or death as a result of the failure to obtain or provide immediate medical attention.

"Andrew Kearse died begging for help and the police officer who looked the other way got off scot-free. Our bill will make sure that officers who fail to obtain potentially life-saving care for people in their custody are held accountable," Warren wrote in a statement Friday. "This legislation is just one step -- I will keep working with my colleagues for a complete overhaul of our policing and justice systems."

Newsweek reached out to both Pressley and Warren's offices Saturday for comment.

The legislation making officers criminally liable for not providing medical attention echoes that of the New York state-level Andrew Kearse Act, proposed in the wake of his 2017 death. The officers in that case were cleared of wrongdoing and never faced any charges. The grand jury that declined to indict Schenectady police officer Mark Weekes cited the testimony of a cardiologist who said it was unclear if Kearse would have survived with immediate medical attention, CBS 6 Albany reported last year.

The bill ultimately stalled out in the New York Senate and Kearse's widow later received a settlement to which she told Newsweek at the time: "No amount of money is going to bring Andrew back. It's not going to bring my husband back. But, if it can save just one life and so many other lives, then he lives on through each and every one of them," said Angelique Negroni-Kearse.

The legislative move by Warren and Pressley this week is co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Edward Markey. It comes as several local lawmakers have directed their police departments to halt actions that many say have allowed racist behavior to worsen, get covered up, or lead to the negligent deaths of people in custody.

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Massachusetts lawmakers Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley announced a bill which would hold law enforcement officers criminally liable if they don't provide medical care to individuals in their custody. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / Stringer/Getty Images
Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley Propose Bill Making Police Liable for Not Providing Medical Care to Those in Custody | News