Inmate Gives Birth Alone in Denver Jail Cell

Last year, a woman was forced to give birth alone in a Denver Jail Cell as guards and medical staff ignored her…

Is that normal? Do jails and prison in the US really dehumanize and degrade people to the point where a pregnant woman must deliver her own baby on a cold concrete floor, knowing that people are watching and that they don’t care about her or her baby?

She filed suit this year for a violation of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment – will her lawsuit succeed? What is the legal standard for an Eighth Amendment claim?

Inmate Gives Birth Alone in Denver Jail Cell

Is the government required to provide medical care for people who are being held in jails or prisons?

Diana Sanchez was arrested for identity theft – she cashed a check in her sister’s name. She pled guilty and was sentenced to probation but was then rearrested for violating a condition of her probation.

She was eight months pregnant when she was sent to the jail. The jail staff including the medical staff knew that she was pregnant. She was examined the day before she went into labor. Once her contractions started, she repeatedly told the jail staff what was happening:

The day before she gave birth, Ms. Sanchez was examined by a nurse who advised her to seek medical attention “immediately” after her first contraction. The next morning, Ms. Sanchez informed the deputy who delivered her breakfast that she had been experiencing contractions, according to the lawsuit.

For the next several hours, Ms. Sanchez spoke with deputies and nurses at least eight times, informing them of her contractions, the lawsuit said.

A little bundle of joy is on the way! Surely the jail staff leaped into action, right?

No. They knew what was happening, they even noted that her water had broken and she was bleeding, but they left her on the floor of her cell until after she had delivered her own baby…

A nurse noted that Ms. Sanchez’s water had broken and her underwear was wet and bloody around 9:45 a.m., but officials did not take Ms. Sanchez to a hospital, the suit said.

A nurse did not come into Ms. Sanchez’s jail cell until after she had delivered her baby, security footage showed.

Surely, once they saw that newborn bundle of joy struggling with mom, they rushed in to protect it, help it, shelter it… right?

No. Even after the baby was born, nurses did not provide it with even the most basic care – they did not even help to cut the umbilical cord:

According to the lawsuit, nurses failed to provide the newborn with basic post-delivery medical care: The baby was not warmed after delivery, mucus was not cleared from his nose or mouth, and no clamps were available to sever the umbilical cord.

Why Did They Ignore Her?

Why would thinking, feeling human beings leave a woman alone in a jail cell as she is delivering a baby?

Was there some physical danger to the guards that were unable to protect themselves against? Was she violent? Did she have some communicable disease? If either of those things was true, would it justify the guard’s actions?

Was she a difficult inmate? Was she obnoxious? Did the guards hate her? Or was it something more basic, like her race? She appears Hispanic, and her last name is Sanchez. Was this dehumanizing and degrading conduct a product of racism on the part of the jail staff?

Did a supervisor somewhere say, “Hey – don’t go in there. Leave her.” Or, were they all complicit? What happened?

Why?

Why the Hell did these people leave this woman to give birth alone in a jail cell? They knew she was in labor. They knew she was in danger. They knew that this would emotionally scar her for the rest of her life. They chose to communicate to her, as she was delivering her baby in what should have been one of the happiest moments of her life, that they did not care about her or her child.

Why?

Protocol and Policy

The Sheriff’s Department, as far as we can tell from the article, did not offer any reasonable explanation, other than “protocol and policy.” As far as we can tell, there was no special danger to the prison staff or any reason to leave her alone in her cell.

According to the Denver Sheriff’s Department, the jail staff “had followed protocol and policy.”

The Denver Sheriff Department conducted an internal review and determined that the deputies had followed protocol and policy, Daria Serna, a department spokeswoman, said.

Ms. Serna said it was up to the Denver Health medical staff members at the time to decide whether Ms. Sanchez should be taken to the hospital.

Really?

The Denver Sheriff’s Department protocol and policy were to ignore a pregnant woman who is giving birth on a jail cell floor? To not provide even the most basic medical attention, much less a human touch or kind word?

According to the article, they were just doing their jobs, following the rules… They have updated their policy now, to ensure pregnant women who are in labor are taken to a hospital:

After an internal review of the episode, the policy was updated.

“To make sure nothing like this happens again, the Denver Sheriff Department has changed its policies to ensure that pregnant inmates who are in any stage of labor are now transported immediately to the hospital,” the department said in a statement.

Well, they were just following the rules. They’ve changed the rules, and they will take all women in labor to a hospital from now on, end of story, right?

No. The woman has filed suit against the jail staff and nurses for violation of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Can she do that?

Can an Inmate Sue for Denial of Medical Care?

It sickens me to think that we need a constitutional provision to prevent people (prison guards and medical staff) from knowingly, purposefully hurting other people (inmates) just because they can. Is it human nature to torture and cause pain and humiliation to others?

As much as I don’t want to believe that, history and current events prove that many people will torture, kill, and hurt other people unless we stop them. That includes and especially applies to people who work in the government…

Denial of medical care in jail or prison is actionable as a violation of the Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment where the inmate can prove that jail staff showed “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.”

What does that mean?

Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs

To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, an inmate must show that prison staff were deliberately indifferent to their medical needs. Negligence is not enough – the inmate must prove that the staff knew about the risk of harm and intentionally ignored it:

A prison official demonstrates “deliberate indifference” if he or she recklessly disregards a substantial risk of harm to the prisoner. This is a higher standard than negligence and requires that the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk of harm to the prisoner. The prison official does not, however, need to know of a specific risk from a specific source.

Deliberate indifference to an inmate’s medical needs is not even enough to prove an Eighth Amendment claim – the prison staff must demonstrate deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.

The Eighth Amendment doesn’t exactly guarantee medical treatment. But it does prohibit the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” When does ignoring a medical need constitute the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain?

Some factors courts have considered in determining whether a “serious medical need” is at issue are “(1) whether a reasonable doctor or patient would perceive the medical need in question as important and worthy of comment or treatment; (2) whether the medical condition significantly affects daily activities; and (3) the existence of chronic and substantial pain.” Additionally, courts will be likely to find a “serious medical need” if a condition “has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or … is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity of a doctor’s attention.” A serious medical need is present whenever the failure to treat a prisoner’s condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Significant injury, pain or loss of function can constitute “serious medical needs” even if they are not life-threatening. Pain can constitute a “serious medical need” even if the failure to treat it does not make the condition worse.

Is pregnancy a serious medical need? What about a woman going into labor in a prison cell? Although at least one case, Doe v. Gustavus, 294 F.Supp.2d 1003, 1008 (E.D.Wis. 2003), has held that late stages of pregnancy constitute a serious medical need, does any thinking, feeling human being need a court to tell them that?

I hope that Diana Sanchez is set for life after her lawsuit.

I hope that she and her baby have been flooded with love and care from her family and community.

I hope that she knows that, no matter what crime she committed or what she has done, that she and her child are loved even by people they have never met.

I hope that every person who was in a position to offer her aid, support, or comfort and yet didn’t come to understand that their crime was exponentially more horrible and unforgivable than the crime that put Diana Sanchez in their jail. You will suffer no real consequences. You won’t be charged with a crime. And yet, you are the criminal in this scenario.

This story is especially powerful because it comes at a time when our government is increasingly indifferent to the humanity of both citizens and immigrants who are non-white. A time when our government repeatedly offers support and legitimacy to white supremacists and others who would strip the humanity from entire races or classes of people. A time when the United States incarcerates more of our citizens – and disproportionately non-white citizens – than any other country in the world.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach, SC

Lacey Thompson is a SC criminal defense lawyer who accepts cases in the Myrtle Beach, Lexington, and Columbia, SC areas.

If you have been charged with a crime or think that you are under investigation, call the Thompson Defense Firm now at 843-444-6122 or send us an email to set up a free consultation.

woman gives birth alone in Denver jail cell

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