Christina Eilman was mentally ill.
The 21-year-old California woman hung around Midway Airport for two days, raving about the price of oil, exposing herself, making lewd comments and screaming at ticket agents, a baby and a blind man.
Then the Chicago police took her into custody, held her overnight and released her into a high-crime neighborhood, where things turned even worse.
On behalf of Eilman, whose plunge from a seventh-floor public-housing apartment in May 2006 has left her permanently brain-damaged, her parents are suing the city for $100 million, contending that police negligence placed her in harm's way without the wherewithal to seek help or protection.
The Tribune wrote about Eilman's ordeal three years ago based on the information available at the time, but as the trial approaches in March, recent court filings have shed new light on her case. Perhaps the most disturbing new detail is a police officer's account that a police supervisor told officers to take Eilman to the hospital instead of putting her in a lockup overnight, but they didn't because they said there was no car handy at the station.
Later, the same watch commander ordered a police sergeant to talk to Eilman based on the reports from other officers about her behavior. The sergeant reported back that he didn't see any signs of mental illness, and Eilman ended up in a holding cell for more than 24 hours, according to officers' depositions.
Pretrial testimony and other court documents show that several officers involved in Eilman's arrest at Midway had an ongoing discussion at the Chicago Lawn District about how to handle the woman who was behaving so strangely. One officer testified she called Eilman's parents in California, learned that she was "probably bipolar" and then relayed the information to a watch commander and the arresting officers.
Police Department policy requires officers dealing with mentally ill people to take them to a hospital for an evaluation. But instead of arranging transportation to a hospital, police ultimately sent Eilman miles away to the Wentworth District lockup, where multiple witnesses said jail guards dealt with her erratic and bizarre behavior by repeatedly telling her to "shut up." One inmate testified that black officers repeatedly shouted at Eilman, calling her a "white bitch."
City officials stand by the decision not to send Eilman to a hospital. Eilman seemed lucid and apologetic during a roughly half-hour interview with Sgt. David Berglind, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department. Hoyle also cited an officer's testimony that Eilman's father, Rick Paine, had used the word "probably" when discussing whether Eilman was bipolar. But Paine recalled that he told the officer that his daughter had been hospitalized for bipolar disorder a year before.
Eilman's lawsuit is set for trial in federal court in March. It is unclear whether the city will attempt to settle the case, but no settlement offer has been made, Hoyle said.
Through their lawyer, Eilman's parents declined to comment for this story. But they have said previously that the $100 million in damages they are seeking in the case take into consideration that Eilman will never be able to live independently and that she will require costly treatment and therapy for the rest of her life.
As a result of the fall, Eilman suffered numerous broken bones and a shattered pelvis, and a severe brain injury from which she will never fully recover. In the last four years, Eilman's progress has reached a plateau, and she will remain in an impaired state, with a childlike grasp of reality, for the rest of her life, doctors say. The brain injury has only exacerbated the severity of her bipolar disorder, according to medical experts. After being treated at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Eilman now lives with her parents in suburban Sacramento, Calif.
Testimony from Eilman's friends, police officers and women detained alongside her reveal a vivid timeline of the last months of Eilman's former life: her instability in spring 2006, frayed relationships with friends and family, dropping out of the University of California at Los Angeles as her bipolar disorder crowded out her ability to study and work, and her trip to Chicago weeks later.
While city officials assert that Eilman seemed lucid during Sgt. Berglind's interview with her on the day of her arrest, the testimony of other officers paints a more complicated picture.
Officers involved in the arrest contradicted each other's statements, but one of the arresting officers testified that a watch commander instructed him and his partner to transport Eilman to a designated hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Officer Rosendo Moreno told investigators that while Eilman was being held at the Chicago Lawn District near Midway, he heard Lt. Carson Earnest tell Moreno's partner, Officer Richard Cason, to take Eilman to the hospital. But Cason responded that he and Moreno didn't have a car to transport her, according to Moreno.
In his lawsuit deposition, Moreno said he did not recall the conversation, but when Eilman's lawyer reminded Moreno of his statements to internal affairs investigators, he acknowledged it had taken place.
Quoting from sealed internal affairs documents, one of the expert witnesses hired by Eilman's lawyers wrote in a report that "Moreno admitted to telling Sgt. Skala that the Watch Commander said they should put Ms. Eilman in a car and take her to the hospital. However, he then reported, 'Rich (Cason) told him that we did not have a car.' "
When asked about that statement, Cason told investigators he did not recall that conversation and that it might have pertained to a different arrest, according to the report.
Earnest, the watch commander, denied any officers told him they believed Eilman was mentally ill. His account also differs from the testimony of Officer Yvonne Delia, who was so alarmed by Eilman's behavior that she used her own cell phone to call the woman's parents in California. Delia said she relayed to Earnest and Cason that Rick Paine said his daughter had mental health issues.
Though Earnest denied any such knowledge, he said he was aware that police had been called to Midway for two straight days to deal with Eilman, whom witnesses said was out of control, making lewd, irrational and aggressive statements to people in the terminal.
Instead of arranging transportation to a hospital, police ultimately sent Eilman miles away to the Wentworth District lockup. Rick and Kathy Paine have agonized over their own decision to stay at home, waiting by the phone for more information from Chicago police instead of jumping on a plane to come to their daughter's aid. Kathy Paine told the Tribune in 2007 that she did not know what to do because police would give her no concrete information.
Over nine telephone calls from Kathy Paine to the Wentworth District, she said, she was repeatedly told to call back later until an officer told her that Eilman had already been released.
Police escorted Eilman to the back door of the Wentworth District, which also houses an area detective headquarters. She then wandered along 51st Street a few blocks east to a takeout restaurant, where men began to gather and talk to the petite blonde, who was dressed in a skimpy jogging suit.
Witnesses said she appeared to be disoriented and behaving erratically, unable to make eye contact or track what people were saying to her. A short time later she walked to the public housing high-rise at 5135 S. Federal St., then the last remaining building of the Robert Taylor Homes. It has since been razed.
A crowd gathered around, befuddled by the presence of an unescorted white woman in a virtually all-black, high-crime area. Eilman eventually went with a group of people to a vacant apartment on the seventh floor that residents used as a communal room.
One resident, Melene Jones, said she repeatedly told Eilman to leave because the building was not safe for her. Several men asked Eilman to perform oral sex, but she refused, at one point saying she would jump out the window if anyone laid a hand on her, witnesses said.
Jones said she tried to persuade Eilman to leave because she feared something bad would happen.
"First off, because, I mean, there was nobody there with her. And second off, because she was a white girl and, I mean, it's really unusual for a white girl to be in the building and especially by herself," Jones testified. "If you live there, it's cool and you know everybody and whatnot, but if you don't and you just be there and whatnot, people, they might try to take advantage of you and whatnot."
Eventually, reputed gang member and convicted felon Marvin Powell entered the apartment and began trying to talk to Eilman, several witnesses said. He began trying to provoke her with sexual taunts and then demanded that everyone else leave the apartment. When Eilman tried to leave with them, Powell allegedly held her back and said to the others, "I'm gonna show this bitch who the real killa is," according to testimony from resident Robert Kimble.
Powell is charged with abducting and sexually assaulting Eilman. He is jailed awaiting trial.
Eilman began screaming that Powell was going to kill her, and Powell shut the door. Soon, people outside did not hear any more screaming, Kimble and others said. About 15 minutes later, residents started running through the halls of the building in an uproar. The woman had plummeted from the window, they said, and was lying in the grass below.