Late Tuesday, on the 4th anniversary of Andrew Kearse’s death, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with Representatives Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), led their colleagues in reintroducing the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act to hold law enforcement officers criminally liable for failing to obtain medical assistance to people in custody experiencing medical distress.
On May 11, 2017, Andrew Kearse, a 36-year-old Black man, died of a heart attack in the back of a police cruiser after begging a police officer for help. Instead of providing Mr. Kearse with medical assistance, the officer dismissed his pleas and waited precious minutes until after Mr. Kearse became nonresponsive to call for medical assistance. Despite failing to seek potentially life-saving care for Mr. Kearse, the officer involved was not charged with a crime. The Andrew Kearse Act was first introduced in 2020 after the lawmakers committed to introduce the legislation during a conversation with Andrew’s widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse.
“There can be no justice for Andrew Kearse or the many others who have died after being denied medical care while in custody. Justice would mean they’d still be alive today. There must, however, be accountability,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “We must pursue policies that keep Black, brown and other marginalized folks alive. If, God forbid, they die at the hands of law enforcement, the officer responsible cannot just simply walk away. I’m grateful to my colleagues for their partnership on this legislation and look forward to continuing our work to build a just legal system that centers the dignity and humanity of all people.”
“Andrew Kearse died begging for help and the police officer who looked the other way got off scot-free. Our bill will make sure that officers who fail to obtain potentially life-saving care for people in their custody are held accountable,” said Senator Warren. “This legislation is just one step – I will keep working with my colleagues for a complete overhaul of our policing and justice systems.”
“Andrew Kearse’s story is heartbreaking and unacceptable, and there’s no question that he should be alive today,” said Congressman Espaillat. “Every law enforcement officer should have mandatory training to provide medical assistance, and any officer who is negligent or refuses medical care to an individual in their custody will be held criminally liable their cruel inaction. An arrest is not a death sentence – nobody should be denied life-saving medical care while in police custody, and this bill is a step towards accountability.”
“There is so much that has to be done to reimagine a criminal justice system that is fundamentally designed to dehumanize our communities,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “The Andrew Kearse Act is a critical first step. Mr. Kearse’s death was a direct result of that officer’s actions and, yet, the officer faced no criminal charges. For Mr. Kearse, and so many others, we must demand accountability.”
The Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act would:
Hold federal law enforcement officials criminally liable when they fail to obtain or provide medical care to individuals in their custody who are experiencing medical distress;
Require training for federal law enforcement officials on assisting individuals in medical distress; and
Direct the Inspectors General of the agencies that employ federal law enforcement officers to investigate potential violations and refer them to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
“I want to thank all of you who have shown continued support not only for me and my husband but for everyone who has fought the good fight. I want the names of Andrew Kearse, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and George Floyd to not be a passing memory but something that sticks with us through the toughest of times so that we can remember the trials and tribulations those before us have suffered. I also want to thank Senator Warren and Ayanna Pressley for helping with the passing of the Andrew Kearse law. I want to strive for a future where the words I can’t breathe come from a place of laughter not from a place of fear. A future where our youth doesn’t have to worry if it’s their last day on earth. A future where everyone can breathe,” said Angelique Negroni-Kearse, widow of Andrew Kearse.
The Andrew Kearse Act is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her comprehensive, decarceration-focused resolution that outlines a framework for a fair, equitable and just legal system that shifts resources away from institutions that perpetuate brutality and injustice and invest in solutions that promote community safety and center the dignity and humanity of all people.