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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brookline police action faulted in death

BROOKLINE – A woman whose husband died of an apparent heart attack while police and ambulance services were responding says a delayed response by the on-duty police officer, under the supervision of the police chief, could be to blame for her husband’s untimely death.

Attorney Elizabeth Leonard is representing Joyce Collins of 41 Mountain Road, whose husband, James Collins, died at home March 10 while Brookline police and ambulance services were responding to a medical call. James Collins was in his 40s.

“Specifically, the failure of the Police Department to timely respond to the emergency call with the proper life-saving equipment may have been a significant and contributing cause of Mr. Collins death,” Leonard wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to selectmen. “To compound matters, as I have previously informed the Board, Chief Quigley may have failed to properly and thoroughly investigate this matter and failed to advise the Board and public with candor thereby causing further severe emotional distress to my client and her family.”

Leonard is questioning how the incident was investigated and asking for a probe by a neutral party. She first asked for an independent investigation in an Oct. 3 letter to the board.

Leonard, a lawyer with the Manchester firm Wiggin & Nourie, is asking selectmen to find out how the officer on duty used the department’s Automated External Defibrillator to respond to the call, and if the on-duty officer, who has not been identified, failed to follow department policies.

According to information available in the minutes of the May 2 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, selectmen’s Chairman Tad Putney said Hollis Dispatch, at the Hollis police station, “toned” the Brookline Ambulance Service to the Collins’ residence on March 10 at 2:13 a.m.

When the call came in, the on-duty Brookline police officer was at the Hollis Dispatch picking up paperwork, Putney reported.

He said the officer left Hollis, drove to the Brookline police station, picked up the AED and went to the Collins’ residence where ambulance personnel were waiting.

In a memo to the Board of Selectmen from Police Chief William Quigley III, read by Putney at the May 2 board meeting, Quigley explained that AEDs are kept at the police station to avoid exposure to the cold. He also said cold wears down the batteries in the devices.

According to the Brookline Police Department’s written policy on medical assistance and AEDs, an officer is directed to place an AED in the cruiser at the start of his or her shift, examine it for it defects and check it again at the end of the shift before storing it at the police station.

The policy took effect in 2007 and was reviewed last year.

Leonard’s second request for an independent investigation also refers to concerns about the incident expressed by resident Jennifer Brooks, who contacted the board. Brooks was asking about medical response protocols after Collins’ death.

In her first letter to the selectmen, Leonard told the board, “Mrs. Collins is deeply concerned that the information related to the public in the Board meeting was misleading. More importantly, Mrs. Collins believes that there were gross deviations from the department policies, procedures, rules and regulations set forth by the Brookline Police Department regarding police response and appropriate use of the Automated External Defibrillator.”

In an e-mail response to The Telegraph, Quigley said he could not provide more information.

“This is a personnel matter. Due to the possibility of civil litigation I cannot release the requested information,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Putney was out of the country, and not available, and board Vice Chairman Clarence Farwell declined to comment, saying the board would be taking up the issue in a future, nonpublic session.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.