In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, a Colorado woman accused the staff at the Denver County Jail of forcing her to give birth alone in a cell without medical supervision, ignoring her pleas for help through hours of labor. The entire ordeal was captured in a horrifying surveillance video, in which you can see the woman, Diana Sanchez, screaming in agony.
The Washington Post reports that Diana Sanchez was eight months pregnant when she was booked at the Denver County Jail, and her due date of three weeks was noted by the facility’s medical personnel. But that information was rendered useless by the time Sanchez felt her first wave of contractions around 5 a.m. on July 31, 2018. Disturbing surveillance footage, which Sanchez petitioned the Department of Public Safety to release, shows that she was routinely ignored from that point forward.
Sanchez says she told the deputy and nurses about her contractions at least eight times that morning, but help never came. Shortly before 10 a.m., Sanchez told a deputy that her water broke and that her abdominal pains were worsening; she was given an absorbent pad. Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, a nurse requested a van to transport Sanchez to the hospital, but jail officials approved the request knowing that the van wouldn’t be able to transport Sanchez until new detainees were booked, an hours-long process.
This cruel indifference only worsened. From the Washington Post:
Less than an hour after her water broke, Sanchez started shouting for help, the complaint said. A deputy arrived to Sanchez’s cell to find that the pad was soaked through and she was “clearly in excruciating pain.” When a nurse was informed of the situation, he allegedly responded that Sanchez was already scheduled to go to the hospital, so she didn’t need medical care, the suit said.
By 10:42 a.m., video of the cell showed Sanchez with her pants around her knees, her face distorted in a grimace. Soon, she is frantically taking off her pants and underwear. The door of her cell opens, but no one comes in to help.
Sanchez’s mouth is wide open in a scream. Within seconds, a small baby tumbles out onto the bed and only then does a man wearing surgical gloves enter the cell. He appears to examine the infant, gently patting the baby’s back a few times. At least two people in uniforms can be seen.
After she gave birth, it took over 30 minutes for Sanchez and her newborn to be transported to the hospital—a situation worsened by the fact that the medical staff at the jail did not appear to know how to respond to a delivery.
From an August 2018 KDVR report on the incident (emphasis ours):
At 10:45 a.m. a nurse called an ambulance, but the report indicates nurses didn’t seem to know where to find a large clamp for the umbilical cord and had to call the Denver Fire Department to assist because paramedics were taking too long to arrive.
“They put my son’s life at risk. Like at least him, he deserves a chance, you know,” said Sanchez. “When I got at the hospital (doctors) said I could have bled to death.”
This new lawsuit follows an internal investigation performed by the Denver Sheriff Department in 2018, which—predictably—absolved the deputies of any and all wrongdoing. A spokeswoman said that the deputies “took the appropriate actions under the circumstances and followed the relevant policies and procedures,” but made sure to add that the “policy has since been clarified that when an inmate is in labor, an emergency ambulance will be called.”
There is nothing appropriate about a woman in county custody undergoing nearly six hours of labor pains unaided, and there are no conceivable circumstances in which the deputies’ actions are defensible. And for medical personnel at the facility to respond with abject cluelessness at the sight of a newborn is alarming.
As Sanchez’s attorney, Mari Newman, told KDVR, “The failure to provide care to a woman who is in labor and a baby who is born without any medical assistance in a dirty jail cell... this is not civilized.”
But in the same country where a pregnant woman was allegedly forced to deliver a baby while handcuffed, this lack of civility is all too familiar.