A Black woman whose wrists and ankles were reportedly shackled by police while she was in labor has reached a $750,000 settlement in her suit against New York City Police Department and the city.
NYPD officers arrested the woman in December 2018 on a misdemeanor assault charge when she was more than 40 weeks pregnant. (The charge has since been dismissed and sealed.) She went into labor while in police custody, in a holding cell. When she told a woman police officer that she needed medical attention she said the officer told her to remove her clothes from the waist down to conduct an “inspection,” according to the suit.
“I felt disgusted ... because I’m in a dirty jail cell and an officer says I need to lay on something so she could look in my private area to see if my baby is coming,” the woman, identified only as Jane Doe in the suit, told CNN.
Around midnight, she was shackled to a gurney and transported to a local hospital, where she received medical exams and was taken to the delivery room, all while in handcuffs. An officer agreed to remove the cuffs only after a nurse told him they were preventing her from receiving an epidural and that she would need to start pushing soon, the suit alleged. Officers put her back in handcuffs just an hour after she gave birth, and her son was later taken to the intensive care unit after showing signs of distress and jaundice. No one she knew was present at the time of delivery.
“That was not my birth plan,” the woman told CNN. “I felt like a failure to my unborn because that wasn’t something that was planned for neither of us. I just didn’t feel like myself anymore after that. I feel like my memory got taken away. And still I’m in pain.”
The woman took legal action against the city as well as multiple NYPD officers involved in her detention in October, seeking damages for the violation of her civil rights, punitive damages, lawyer fees, and emotional distress.
Handcuffing or shackling pregnant people has been illegal in New York since 2015, and the law specifies that police are barred from doing so while the person is in labor, on the way to the hospital, giving birth, and for up to eight weeks after delivery. Nonetheless it’s happened at least once since the law went into effect: In 2018, another woman anonymously sued the NYPD after she was shackled to a hospital bed while giving birth. She “delivered the baby with her right hand still cuffed to the hospital bed,” the New York Times reported at the time.
The woman was awarded $610,000 in a similar settlement with the city, and the NYPD promised to reform its patrol guide, the official rule book for how officers should conduct themselves while on duty. But as is often the case with police departments, so-called reform appears to have done very little to prevent the same thing from happening again. (A spokesperson for the NYPD noted that this more recent incident occurred before the new protocol could be put in place; one wonders how involved it could possibly be to inform officers to stop handcuffing pregnant people. Again—it was already illegal by this point.)
“The first breath that this baby had on this earth was one born out of violence,” Anne Oredeko, an attorney representing Jane Doe, told CNN. “This lawsuit was meant as a way to give her some type of solace, but there’s no repairing that—money will never repair that. And she cannot get that moment back.”