A lawsuit that alleges police in Illinois stripped a young woman naked and photographed her after she died in a drunk driving accident in 2009 will finally head to court next week.
The suit, filed by the family of Jessica Mejia, claims that officers from the Cook County Sheriff's Office stripped Mejia of her clothes in plain view of onlookers gathered at the scene of the accident and took pictures of her naked body.
"This was a young lady that just died and was treated with less dignity than a deer carcass you find on the side of the road," Don Perry, the attorney representing Mejia's family, told the Chicago Tribune.
Mejia, 20, was killed after a car driven by her boyfriend, Nicholas Sord, crashed into a light pole and rolled into a ditch. Sord, who had a blood alcohol level of .236 at the time of the accident, pled guilty to drunk driving last fall and is currently serving a 56-month prison sentence.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has denied that the responding officers acted inappropriately and that they were just trying to preserve evidence that later helped convict Sord.
"The family suffered an unimaginable loss, and the crime scene photos were taken as our officers investigated this crime and were instrumental in securing a conviction against the person responsible for this tragic death," said Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for the sheriff. "In no way were these photos intended to cause harm to the family."
Christina Mejia, Jessica’s mother, said that the sheriff’s office didn’t serve the public the night her daughter was killed and is suing to clear up allegations that the girl was killed because she was straddling Sord at the time of the accident.
"(People) think my daughter died from having sex, not from somebody being drunk and killing her. Because they took these photos, by the time everybody else got to the scene, all the ambulances and everybody else, she was partially naked because they made her naked," Mejia said. "So the rumors, and the allegations ... they made it believable."
The sheriff’s office first denied it had taken the photos of Mejia, but then Smith, who was not with the sheriff's office at the time, admitted the photos were taken and that it is "standard operating procedure" to photograph crime scenes.
The Chicago Tribune was shown the photos by Christina Mejia’s lawyer and described them as one set of photos showing Mejia, lifeless, in the back seat of the vehicle: She is wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and high heels. The other photos show her on a tarp on the ground, naked except for her lower undergarment.
"To see the way my daughter's body was handled, at the scene was so confusing and so disturbing," Mejia said. "I just didn't understand why they did that."