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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Immigrant Says She Gave Birth in Shackles

NASHVILLE (CN) - Davidson County sheriff's officers shackled a Mexican immigrant to a hospital bed while she gave birth, despite hospital staff's protests that the restraints were "barbaric," Juana Villegas claims in Federal Court. She says officers also barred her from contacting anyone after delivery and refused to let her use a breast pump at the immigration detention center.

Police initially arrested Villegas, then nine months pregnant, as she was driving home from a doctor's check up with her three children in the car. She speaks little English, so her teenage son had to translate the traffic stop for her.

Villegas says the officer never told her why he pulled her over or that she was being arrested for driving without a license. She was booked at a detention center and went into labor two days later.

"She was taken to the nurse's station, where her feet and hands were shackled awaiting transportation to the hospital," the lawsuit claims.

At Nashville General Hospital, two male officers allegedly accompanied her into the hospital room and refused to leave as she changed into her hospital gown. They then unplugged the phone in the room, Villegas claims, preventing her from calling her husband about the imminent delivery.

One of the officers then shackled her left foot and right hand to the hospital bed, she claims.

"The hospital staff complained to (the officer) that the shackling of Ms. Villegas was 'barbaric' and in violation of medical standards," the lawsuit states. "Despite their pleas, (the officer) refused to unshackle Ms. Villegas."

Villegas says she was briefly unshackled when a replacement officer took over the first officer's shift, but was immediately shackled again after giving birth, even after nurses told her to walk around as much as possible to loosen the muscles in her lower body.

When her baby boy was taken from her after delivery, the nurses gave her a breast pump to reduce the pain and swelling while she was separated from her child. But she claims the defendants wouldn't let her bring the pump to the detention center, and her breasts became so swollen that she couldn't move or sleep.

Villegas pleaded guilty to driving without a license and was transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

An ICE special agent allegedly released her on humanitarian grounds.

She is suing the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and four John Doe officers for constitutional violations and breach of contract. She demands actual and punitive damages, and is represented by Phillip Cramer with Sherrard & Roe PLC.

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