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Indian woman fasts to death in US jail

world Updated: Jan 29, 2012 00:35 IST
Yashwant Raj

An Indian woman who had been wrongly summoned for jury duty and was then arrested for not complying is reported to have starved herself to death in a Chicago prison.

Lyvita Gomes, 52, was from Mumbai, and authorities said she had been diagnosed with mental illness at the time of her imprisonment, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Gomes was a flight attendant who moved to the US in 2004 to work with Delta Airlines, which had taken over her then employer Pan Am. She worked at the company head-office in Atlanta.

After being laid off five years ago, Gomes moved to Illinois and used her visa, which was still valid, to acquire a driving licence, which wrongly put her in the Lake county pool for jury duty.

Non-US citizens cannot serve on jury. But she got a notice of jury duty in July last year. Gomes didn’t respond. A court ordered her presence after she ignored all subsequent summons.

A police officer from the local sheriff’s office showed up at Vernon Hills hotel, where Gomes lived, to arrest her. She resisted, and was slapped with misdemeanor of resisting arrest.

At the county jail, authorities figured Gomes’s visa had expired. She was let off after two days as US immigration initiated deportation proceedings against her. The jury duty charge was dropped but the one for resisting arrest remained.

On a judge’s orders, Vernon Hills police arrested Gomes once again and brought her to the county jail on December 14.

Gomes soon went on a hunger strike. Questions have been raised why the medical staff, which knew of her mental condition, did not force-feed her.

“How in the US do we allow somebody to die from lack of food?” Madhvi Bahuguna, a friend and former co-worker of Gomes, said to the Chicago Tribune.

The medical services at the county jail were provided by a private company for a $2-million annual contract.