Woman Shackled While She Gave Birth

      McALLEN, Texas (CN) – A South Texas sheriff’s deputy kept a woman in handcuffs as she gave birth, though she begged in pain for the cuffs to be removed, the woman claims in court.
     Christina Mejia Gutierrez sued Hidalgo County, its Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Guadalupe Trevino and Deputy Garza in Federal Court. Shackling a woman while she gives birth is illegal in Texas, though Mejia does not raise this claim in the lawsuit, which does not include Deputy Garza’s first name.
     Mejia says she was incarcerated in the Hidalgo County Jail for theft and was seven months pregnant when her water broke.
     “Plaintiff was then transported from the Hidalgo County Jail to the Woman’s Hospital at Renaissance to deliver her baby,” the complaint states. “Defendant Garza accompanied plaintiff to the hospital.
     “Plaintiff, Christina Mejia Gutierrez was shackled at her wrists during transportation. She was shackled at her wrist during her time at the hospital intake; shackled at her wrist during delivery; and shackled by her foot during recovery.
     “Defendant Deputy/Officer Garza, a female, was the individual who shackled the plaintiff. … Plaintiff begged for the restraints to be taken off but to no avail.
     “The restraints exacerbated an already painful process and caused a great deal of pain, suffering and anxiety.”
     Mejia claims Garza was following a Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office policy of restraining pregnant inmates even when they are not a “substantial flight risk.”
     That policy is illegal in Texas, under HB 3563 , which the Legislature passed in 2009 and Gov. Rick Perry signed into law.
     The bill states: “A municipal or county jail may not use restraints to control the movement of a pregnant woman in the custody of the jail at any time during which the woman is in labor or delivery, being transported to a medical facility, or recovering from delivery unless the sheriff or another person with supervisory authority over the jail determines that the use of restraints is necessary to 1. Ensure the safety and security of the woman or her infant, department or medical personnel, or any member of the public, or 2. Prevent a substantial risk that the woman will attempt to escape.”
     The bill took effect Sept. 1, 2009.
     Mejia’s complaint does not mention the bill.
     She demands punitive damages for civil rights violations.
     She is represented by Eduardo Torres, with Flores & Torres, of Edinburg.

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