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Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2019

Melissa Welch-Latronica had no idea why she got pulled over by a Valparaiso police officer earlier this month.

He informed her that she failed to affix her 2019 sticker to her license plate. She apologized and handed him her driver’s license. Then she waited, and waited.

She noticed a second police car pull up behind the first vehicle. This is when she began feeling anxiety while looking at the squad car’s flashers in her mirror.

“I have no felonies or anything on my record,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

The officer returned to her minivan and asked her step out of it. Why? There was a warrant for her arrest, she was told. It’s from a civil case in 2014 when she failed to appear in court for an unpaid ambulance bill.

Latronica, a single mother of three young children, was on her way to deliver important paperwork to a county agency, she said.

“Or else I could lose my home,” she told the officer.

“Sorry ma’am,” the officer replied.

Latronica was handcuffed behind her vehicle, which was impounded.

Valparaiso police confirmed that an officer transported Latronica to Porter County Jail, where she was booked Feb. 11 and placed into a cell.

“I was scared to death. I had never been in a jail cell. And I couldn't afford the $1,500 bond,” Latronica told me.

Her personal items were confiscated. Her mugshot was taken.

“I was in a cell fit for a murderer,” she recalled. “I slept on disgusting mat on a concrete floor in a tiny room, next to a musty water drain that was more like a sewer. I was treated like a dog from staff members, served food through a door hole, and showered in an open area with actual felons.”

“I had nothing to do but stare at the four concrete walls and listen to catcalls from felons down the hall, or the vomiting from inmates going through drug withdrawals,” she said. “All this because I failed to pay off an ambulance bill. My crime was having a heart attack.”

In July 2014, Latronica was eight months pregnant with her third child when she felt dizzy while sitting on her bed. She felt her heart racing, and her lungs gasping for air. She ended up on the living room floor that day, she told me. Her husband at the time called 911. An ambulance arrived at their Portage home. ...
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