A woman in St. Louis County has filed a lawsuit alleging her civil rights were violated when, after being arrested for refusing a court-ordered paternity test, she was jailed for more than a month. To make matters worse, she was seven months pregnant when she was arrested, and gave birth prematurely when she was finally released from jail.
According to the Appeal, Adrianna Thurman was carted off to jail in October of last year, when she was deemed in contempt of the St. Louis County Family Court for refusing to submit her two children to a paternity test requested by her ex-boyfriend. Thurman was adamant the ex, Erwin Rush, was not her children’s father—an assertion later confirmed by paternity test—but she was arrested. And since her arrest manifested from a civil warrant, she was held without being charged, without having access to an attorney, and without being eligible for bond.
Per the Appeal:
During her time in jail, Thurman alleges, jail officials did not provide the limited accommodations typically given to pregnant women, such as an extra mattress and blanket. She says her repeated requests to speak with a caseworker to figure out why she was being held on a civil charge went unfulfilled. And according to her complaint, even when her ex-boyfriend’s attorney repeatedly asked the division clerk of the court to set a hearing before the court commissioner, he refused to do so, incorrectly claiming that hearings must be initiated by jail officials.
Thurman was finally released on November 9, 39 days after she was incarcerated. She alleges that in addition to separating her from her two children, the stint in jail cost her her job and her housing, and that she gave birth prematurely, as a “direct result of the wrongful incarceration.” Thurman was also later diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, according to the lawsuit, and believes it might have been caught earlier had she not been in jail.
“It’s scary,” her attorney, Chelsea Merta, said. “One minute you’re just living your life, taking care of your kids and going to work, and then the next minute police are knocking on your door saying that you’re in contempt for something that you didn’t even really know was happening, and being locked up for 39 days and losing everything. And having your entire world flipped upside down.”
Thurman, who names St. Louis County, Sheriff Jim Buckles, and court clerk Michael Young in her suit, seeks a judgment mandating that people detained on civil warrants have “prompt access to the judicial system,” in addition to compensatory and punitive damages.