Chicago, IL —
An HIV-positive man from Chicago filed suit in U.S. District Court in Peoria June 18, alleging that a Downstate jail denied him HIV medications for the seven days he was held there in the fall of 2010.
Arick Buckles was detained in the Bureau County Jail on old check forgery charges from Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2010, during which time he repeatedly asked to be allowed to take the HIV medications he had with him. Jailers there refused to let him do that, the lawsuit charges, and denied repeated requests from his physician, his partner and a minister to provide him with his medications. An official with an HIV/AIDS group in Chicago even faxed the jail a list of Buckles' prescriptions but Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson and other officials at the jail continued to deny Buckles access to his medications while he was incarcerated, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit was filed on Buckles' behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, with assistance from Winston & Strawn LLP.
Buckles and the ACLU held off on filing suit for more than a year, seeking instead to convince Thompson to change Bureau County's policy and handling of HIV-positive detainees.
"We asked the sheriff to take steps to fix this problem a year ago, and he offered no response," said John Knight, director of the ACLU of Illinois LGBT Project. "A lawsuit was the only step we had to ensure that this never happens again."
Thompson did not return phone calls seeking comment when the ACLU first wrote him about their HIV policy last June and has not responded to a voicemail asking about the lawsuit that's now been filed.
As an HIV/AIDS counselor and activist, Buckles was well aware of the dangers of letting his medications lapse when he was detained. Originally diagnosed with HIV in 2005, Buckles initially responded with denial, believed he was going to die and went through a period when he made what he admits now were a series of ill-advised life and financial decisions, including forging some checks.
But six years ago, he sought treatment and began turning his life around.
"I know with the medications I take on a daily basis I can live a normal life," Buckles said. "It's given me so much hope."
By the time he was jailed in Bureau County, Buckles had become co-chair of the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy and was heavily involved in community outreach, seeking out HIV-positive people who should be in treatment and telling them why it's important and saves lives.
As part of his effort to turn things around, in the fall of 2010 Buckles went to DuPage County to clear up minor check-forging charges dating from the days before he sought treatment. While there, another warrant on similar charges surfaced from Bureau County, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. That led to his brief incarceration there.
"I told the staff each day about my HIV status and the need for my medications," Buckles said. "The lack of action caused me enormous anxiety and concern."
While he was in jail there, a nurse and doctor saw Buckles but, the lawsuit alleges, the Medical Progress Report made at the jail said the plan was to tell the Bureau County state's attorney that providing HIV medications for Buckles "would be very costly."
"Bureau County had an obligation under the Constitution to provide the medical care necessary to protect the health of Arick Buckles," Knight said. "They failed. They elevated concerns about costs and price of health care above the need for health care."
The lawsuit alleges that the denial of HIV medications for Buckles during his incarceration violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"We had hoped that the letter we sent a year ago would spur the jail to change policies," Buckles said. "Instead they have stonewalled."