Third Woman Sues Sheriff Over Birth in Milwaukee Jail

MILWAUKEE (CN) – Embattled Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. was sued by another woman who claims she was forced to give birth in a filthy jail cell without any medical care, before being shackled to a hospital bed during a week of postpartum treatment.

On March 10, 2014, Rebecca Terry was forced to undergo childbirth and delivery without medical care in a jail infirmary cell, according to a lawsuit she filed Thursday in Milwaukee federal court.

“After more than three hours in labor, alone in her cell screaming for help, plaintiff began to push. Blood spurted all over her bed and cell. Plaintiff’s son emerged from the birth canal and was making choking sounds and appeared blue in the face. Plaintiff was terrified her son could not breathe and was unsure how to help him. In desperation, she reached into his throat to clear his airway herself,” the complaint states.

Terry sued Milwaukee County, Sheriff Clarke, various jail personnel and Armor Health Correctional Services for allegedly ignoring her cries for help while in childbirth and shackling her to a hospital bed after birth.

Her lawsuit comes five months after another one filed by Melissa Hall, who claims the sheriff forced her to remain shackled while she delivered her baby. Before that, Shadé Swayzer alleged in December that her baby died just a few hours after being born in a maximum security cell at the Milwaukee County jail.

Terry says she was at a hospital just hours before giving birth in the jail cell. Nine months pregnant, she was arrested in Franklin, Wis. and taken to Milwaukee County Jail for booking procedures, the complaint states. She then began to feel labor pains and was transported to a nearby hospital.

“Froedtert Hospital staff told Milwaukee County deputies that plaintiff was in labor, but that she could return to the jail. Milwaukee County deputies brought plaintiff back to the jail. Plaintiff was transported in leg-irons, wrist restraints, and a belly-chain,” according to the complaint.

The infirmary cell she was taken to was “extremely dirty, including a filthy sink, toilet, and floor,” Terry says.

She began to experience more labor pains, closer together than before and pushed the button in her cell to request assistance, but claims no one came to help. According to the lawsuit, one of the defendant jail staff members, Officer Brian Wenzel, was indeed “at his post, just yards from plaintiff’s cell.”

Terry says she threw up, felt her water break and began screaming and asking for help but “Wenzel dismissed her screams with a wave of a hand.”

“Plaintiff continued to scream for help and push a button asking for assistance. defendants ignored her,” the lawsuit states.

Terry then gave birth to a baby boy, alone, in her infirmary cell on her due date of March 10.

Wenzel finally peeked into her cell and called for help, she claims, and health care staff members “expressed shock” at all of the blood in the cell and “refused to cut the baby’s umbilical cord.” Emergency medical staff arrived as Terry passed in and out of consciousness, according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff was wheeled out of the infirmary on a stretcher to an ambulance, with her baby still connected to her via umbilical cord. The baby’s head was wrapped in bloody paper towels,” the complaint states.

Terry was taken to Sinai Hospital where she and her child received one week of postpartum care. During this time, she alleges she was shackled to the hospital bed with wrist and leg restraints.

She also says she did not receive proper medical care upon returning to jail, including post-partum medical visits and medical treatment.

Terry wants a judge to declare that Milwaukee County, Sheriff Clarke, the various jail staffers and Armor Health medical staff violated her constitutional rights by failing to provide her proper medical care. She also claims their policy of shackling pregnant inmates amounts to unreasonable force.

Terry — represented by Theresa Kleinhaus of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago — claims she “suffered extreme distress and fear during childbirth… and continues to suffer nightmares, flashbacks, extreme distress, fear, humiliation, sadness and anger.”

“We are looking to get justice for what happened to Terry and her experiences in the Milwaukee County jail,” Kleinhaus told Courthouse News.

Milwaukee County did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Monday.

Sheriff Clarke has been under scrutiny for his management of the Milwaukee County jail where four inmates have died since last year, spurring numerous lawsuits. He is currently serving his fourth term as Milwaukee County Sheriff and recently turned down a position with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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