by Daniel A. Rosen |
A jail inmate in Broward County gave birth in her cell recently, with staff ignoring her pleas for help until just prior to delivery. Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony fired two top administrators at the jail just 24 hours after learning of the incident.
It’s the second time in two years a woman has given birth in her cell instead of being taken to a hospital. And it comes just a few months after a new Florida law took effect protecting the rights of incarcerated pregnant women.
“I conducted a review of the matter and determined that command level failures occurred,” said Sheriff Tony. The Colonel and Lieutenant fired “grossly failed this agency and this inmate,” he said.
The mentally ill woman gave birth after screaming for help from jail staff, who ignored her. She was being kept in an infirmary cell, and medical records show she complained of contractions and labor pains for over 12 hours before delivering the baby boy.
The Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act, passed in Florida after another inmate delivered her baby alone in an isolation cell in 2019, calls for pregnant women to be hospitalized once labor begins.
In the latest case, “She should have been taken to a hospital hours before she gave birth,” according to her Public Defender Gordon Weekes. But nurses didn’t enter her cell until her water broke, and “by then it was too late to move her,” Weekes said.
The pregnant 28-year-old woman from Boca Raton was arrested on a burglary charge in early September. She was accused of staying illegally in a nearby home for a week while the owner was out of state. The owner called police.
The woman resisted arrest, kicking at deputies, and the arrest report makes no mention of her pregnancy. But officials knew she was pregnant and suffering from acute mental illness shortly after her arrest.
Days later, the woman was pepper-sprayed during an altercation with deputies, despite knowing she was pregnant. Medical reports cited her physical aggressiveness as a factor in nurses’ and deputies’ failure to properly handle the woman’s medical needs.
Her attorney said that behavioral concerns made it even more important that she be housed in a hospital. “She was left alone in a cell while she was clearly screaming in pain,” Weekes wrote. “Rather than make the appropriate health-related decisions to medically treat a mentally ill patient in crisis and tend to the needs of her unborn child, detention staff administered no medical assistance and merely stood idly by observing her pain from outside her cell.”
Sheriff Tony has also opened an Internal Affairs investigation to determine whether the healthcare provider or sheriff’s deputies violated laws or policies. He said he’s “highly disgusted” over allegations heard from the review so far.
The woman was ordered released without bond two days after the child’s birth.