Monday, October 23, 2023
An Alabama woman has sued county officials after she gave birth in a jail shower while detained. The complaint alleges the following:
For almost the entirety of Ms. Caswell’s high-risk pregnancy, which she spent behind bars, ECDC staff continuously exhibited callous indifference toward Ms. Caswell’s pregnancy-related medical needs. Jail staff ignored her requests for regular prenatal care, refused to provide her with access to her critical mental-health prescription medications, and even denied her basic accommodations, forcing her to sleep on a thin mat on a concrete floor. This ongoing mistreatment culminated on October 16, 2021, the day of her delivery. Although Ms. Caswell was obviously in painful labor, ECDC staff refused to transport her to the hospital. Instead, ECDC staff forced Ms. Caswell to endure nearly 12 hours of unmedicated labor alone in a jail cell and ignored her cries of pain and repeated pleas for assistance. Ms. Caswell ultimately had no choice but to deliver her baby unassisted—not in a hospital or even ECDC’s medical unit—but in a jail shower room. Ms. Caswell suffered excruciating pain and a placental abruption that almost led to her death. After Ms. Caswell delivered, ECDC staff looked on as she lay on the floor bleeding. Instead of attending to Ms. Caswell, ECDC staff took pictures with her newborn baby while the umbilical cord was still connected to Ms. Caswell.
The complaint further suggets that these issues are more systemic in Etowah County:
Etowah County subjects more pregnant and postpartum women per capita to criminal prosecution and pretrial incarceration for pregnancy-related charges than any other large county in Alabama or throughout the United States. Between 2015 and 2023, Etowah County arrested at least 257 pregnant women and new mothers. Accordingly, it was foreseeable and plainly obvious that Defendants would need to attend to the medical needs of pregnant and postpartum women, yet Defendants developed a persistent policy, custom, and practice of doing precisely the opposite.
Indeed, Ms. Caswell’s experience, shocking as it is, is not an isolated event. There is a persistent and widespread history, custom, and practice at ECDC of denying, delaying, or providing plainly inadequate medical care to detained individuals who are pregnant or postpartum in the face of serious and obvious medical needs. In recent years, Defendants’ conduct has resulted in many other pregnant women at ECDC receiving grossly inadequate pre- and postpartum care, or, in many instances, no care at all. Ms. Caswell herself experienced callous indifference to her medical needs at ECDC during an earlier pregnancy in 2019. ECDC staff has denied medical care to numerous other women with serious and obvious medical needs similar to Ms. Caswell’s while they were pregnant or postpartum, including denial of adequate prenatal care, refusal to provide prescribed medications, refusal to provide access to external medical providers even in the face of emergency medical issues such as ongoing labor and delivery, refusal to provide beds and other basic living necessities for pregnant and postpartum women, and denial of proper postpartum care, including provision of a breast pump. This pattern of deficient care has resulted in grievous harm, including at least one stillbirth.
The complaint alleges that defendants violated plaintiff's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It also alleges negligence, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claims.
You can read the full complaint here.