Ex-Inmate Accuses Tennessee Sheriff of Coercing Sterilization

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A former inmate claims in a federal lawsuit that the sheriff of a rural Tennessee county tricked her into a birth-control procedure by falsely promising reduced jail time.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Cookeville, Tenn., federal court, Christel Ward accuses White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe of enforcing a policy of “Eugenics with-a-twist.”

She claims the sheriff offered a 30-day reduction in jail time in exchange for “convicted misdemeanants giving up their constitutional right to procreate, by agreeing to some form of sterilization” – vasectomy for men, and a three to five-year birth-control implant for women.

The lawsuit also names as defendants White County, Deputy Donna Daniels and White County General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield.

“These defendants decided to embarrass the state of Tennessee, nationally, by harking back to a blatantly discriminatory and condemned practice: Eugenics,” the complaint states.

Ward claims Judge Benningfield issued an order on May 15 of this year, stating: “It is ordered any White County inmate serving a sentence for the General Sessions Court who satisfactorily completes the State of Tennessee, Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education (NAS) Program be given two days credit toward completion of his/her jail sentence. Any such female inmate who receives the free Nexplanon implant or any such male inmate who has the free vasectomy as a result thereof shall be given an additional thirty days credit toward completion of his/her jail sentence.”

Ward alleges Deputy Daniels encouraged her and other inmates to get the birth-control implant in exchange for the time off her sentence, and told her the reason the county was pushing the program “was to stop babies from being born addicted to drugs.”

“Based on evidence gathered, Shoupe no doubt has deemed Ms. Ward and all human beings who happen to be incarcerated at the White County Jail as ‘undesirables,’” the complaint states.

But after Ward got the Nexplanon implant, she alleges the sheriff’s department reneged on its promise to reduce her jail time by 30 days. She wasn’t qualified for the reduction because she wasn’t serving a sentence from the General Sessions Court, she claims, but the sheriff didn’t tell her that before the procedure.

“After realizing that she would not benefit from a 30-day reduction in jail time, and before being released, Ms. Ward demanded that Daniels remove the Nexplanon from her arm, but Daniels responded by telling Ms. Ward that she, Ms. Ward, would have to pay $250 dollars to get the Nexplanon removed,” the lawsuit says. “The Nexplanon remains in Ms. Ward’s arm to this day.”

According to the complaint, Ward’s Nexplanon implant happened 10 days before the judge’s order approving the program.

“Shoupe met with Judge Benningfield and the Tennessee Department of Health about Shoupe’s program and asked Benningfield to issue the subject order while also requesting the Department of Health to participate in his program,” Ward claims. “No wonder the Tennessee Department of Health has publicly (and adamantly) denied responsibility for this program.” (Parentheses in original.)

Judge Benningfield rescinded the controversial policy following pressure from the Health Department and American Civil Liberties Union, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Pass.

Ward seeks punitive damages for claims of due process violations, negligence and infliction of emotional distress. She also wants a judge to declare the birth-control program unconstitutional and order the sheriff’s department to remove the Nexplanon from her arm for free.

She is represented by William Stover in Nashville and Mario Williams with Nexus Caridades in Atlanta.

Sheriff Shoupe’s office did not immediately respond Friday to an email request for comment.

White County is located about 90 miles east of Nashville and is home to roughly 25,000 people.

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