Jessica Mejia, 20, was killed on Dec. 31, 2009. She was a passenger in her drunk ex-boyfriend’s car when he crashed the vehicle into a pole. Nicholas Sord, Mejia’s ex-boyfriend, later pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated DUI causing a fatal accident, but the legal battle didn’t end there for Mejia’s family.
According to a lawsuit that’s set to go to trial next Monday, officers from the Cook County Sheriff's Office in Illinois removed Mejia’s clothes and took roadside nude photographs of the young woman. The lawsuit, which was filed in 2010 by the victim’s mother, Christina Mejia, and her family, alleges that the sheriff’s office intended to cause emotional distress by taking the nude photos. The photos apparently violated the department’s rules.
"This was a young lady that just died and was treated with less dignity than a deer carcass you find on the side of the road,” said Don Perry, the attorney representing the Mejia family, Chicago Tribune reports.
Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, defended the decision and said officers were trying to preserve evidence. "The family suffered an unimaginable loss, and the crime scene photos were taken as our officers investigated this crime and were instrumental in securing a conviction against the person responsible for this tragic death," Smith told Chicago Tribune. "In no way were these photos intended to cause harm to the family."
Christina Mejia feels that the officers didn't fulfill their duties.
"I don't feel protected," she told Chicago Tribune. "I feel violated.”
Christina said she’s pursuing the lawsuit to protect her daughter’s reputation because some people believe the accident was caused by her daughter straddling Sord, which was not the case. She claims stripping her daughter’s body at the scene of the accident perpetuated the rumor.
"(People) think my daughter died from having sex, not from somebody being drunk and killing her. Because they took these photos, by the time everybody else got to the scene, all the ambulances and everybody else, she was partially naked because they made her naked,” Christina said. "So the rumors, and the allegations ... they made it believable.”
Though the sheriff's office denied taking the photos, they later admitted to taking off Mejia’s clothing for photos at the crime scene. The photos, which were shown to the Chicago Tribune by Mejia’s attorney, shows images of the victim just after the accident. She was lifeless in the backseat of Sord’s vehicle, wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and high heels. In another photo, Mejia’s body was naked, except for her lower undergarment, on a tarp outside of the vehicle.
Christina wants an apology and assurances that this won’t happen to any other families. She described her daughter, a psychology student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as outgoing and friendly to everyone.
"To see the way my daughter's body was handled, at the scene, was so confusing and so disturbing,” Christina said. "I just didn't understand why they did that.”