A Chicago man’s family made the agonizing decision to take him off life support, then were shocked to see him walk through the door at a family barbecue just seven days later.
The family of Alfonso Bennett was ecstatic to see him alive and well, but the shock soon mixed with anger when they discovered a horrific mix-up by hospital and police officials had ended with them deciding to take a virtual stranger off of life support — robbing that man’s own family of the chance to say their goodbyes.
Bennett’s family and the family of the man who died at the hospital — later identified as 69-year-old Elisha Brittman — have jointly filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital through their attorney, Cannon Lambert, after the disturbing case of mistaken identity, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
Brittman was found naked and beaten underneath a car on April 29 and transported to Mercy Hospital, but without any identification on him at the time, police were unable to identify him, and initially listed him as a John Doe, The Chicago Tribune reports.
Eventually, the lawsuit claims, according to the Tribune, police used mug shots to identify the badly beaten man as Bennett and called his sister, Rosie Brooks.
“I said, ‘How did you all verify that this is Alfonso Bennett?’” she said at a recent news conference. “They said, ‘Through the Chicago Police Department.’”
But despite the identification from police, Bennett’s family claims they were skeptical and repeatedly expressed “serious doubts” to hospital staff that they didn’t believe the man was their brother.
Hospital employees allegedly told the family that they were in denial and “needed to accept it,” the lawsuit, obtained by the New York Post, alleges.
As the man’s condition continued to decline, the family was soon forced to make the difficult decision to take him off life support on May 23, and he soon died.
Bennett’s family began to make funeral preparations — even purchasing a burial plot and casket — when he walked through the door of a family member's home.
Bennett had been on “an out-of-state excursion” and was looking forward to “barbecuing with his family” the lawsuit states.
His shocked family soon contacted police, who used fingerprints to identify Brittman as the man that had died.
Brittman’s niece, Mioshi Brittman, said she had been searching for her missing uncle in the weeks before she learned of his death, even trying to file a missing person’s report with the police, but she was turned away, she said, according to The Sun-Times.
“It wasn’t just I searched for him one day — it was every day,” she said. “If I get off from work—keep searching. Talking with someone after work — ‘Did you call, did you see?’”
The families of Brittman and Bennett now contend that the police should have used fingerprint technology initially to identify the man they discovered.
“[Elisha] was so badly beaten that comparing a mugshot to his badly beaten face was virtually worthless. It would have been easy to fingerprint. It’s something police can do,” Lambert said.
Chicago Police Department spokesperson Jessica Rocco said, however, that the department only uses fingerprinting to identify people as a “last resort” because of potential privacy concerns with the method.
“Since the fingerprints are recorded under a database, and the person is not in custody, we try to exhaust other means first,” she told The Sun-Times.
The incident is now under review, according to a statement from police.
"To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” the statement said, according to The Chicago Tribune. “We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident — from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members.”
The families are seeking more than $50,000 in the lawsuit, alleging negligence, wrongful death and emotional distress as a result of the mix-up.
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