Woman shackled during pregnancy sues Arizona sheriff and others

By | 12.22.11 | 2:14 pm

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez, an undocumented woman who did a stint in an Arizona immigration detention center, is suing Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others for mistreating her during her pregnancy in 2009.

CNN reports that Mendiola-Martinezs is suing the “sheriff’s office, Arpaio, the Maricopa Medical Center and unidentified male and female officers, doctors and nurses”:

Mendiola-Martinez, a Mexican citizen, alleges in the suit she was arrested October 23, 2009, by Scottsdale, Arizona, police, and was booked into Maricopa County’s Estrella Jail on charges of identity theft. She was held without bond under Arizona law.

According to the police report filed at the time of her arrest, Mendiola-Martinez was accused of using someone else’s name, date of birth and Social Security number to obtain work. She was arrested at her place of employment, a department store, while she was vacuuming the floor.

When arrested, she was six months’ pregnant and had developed gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the suit.

On December 20, four days before her sentencing, Mendiola-Martinez began to have contractions, according to the suit. She was shackled at her ankles and taken to the Maricopa Medical Center, where medical personnel determined she was not in labor and returned her to the jail.

By the following day, however, her pain had increased. “Ms. Mendiola-Martinez had been left in the jail visitation room, in extreme pain,” the suit says. Guards ignored her attempts to speak to them in Spanish, so she asked an English-speaking person in the room to tell them she needed help.

She was again taken to the Maricopa Medical Center, where she gave birth to a son via Caesarean section. She was shackled before and after the surgery, according to the suit.

While she was recovering, a male correctional officer “insisted that she be shackled to the hospital bed,” and the shackles on her feet were painful, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Mendiola-Martinez was also mistreated when she was discharged from the hospital in a fragile state. Only one female guard asked that Mendiola-Martinez not be shackled during labor.

This lawsuit follows a federal report released days ago that found Arpaio, a sheriff known for using controversial immigration enforcement and detention measures, committed a “wide range of civil rights violations.”

The subject of human rules of restraint for incarcerated pregnant women has also received heightened attention, as of late. Florida is currently preparing to take another stab at passing legislation that women’s advocates say would fill a present gap in jail policies in Florida for the treatment of incarcerated pregnant women, despite claims by the Florida Department of Corrections that the measure is unnecessary.

The law would create uniform rules that would require the humane treatment of pregnant women across the board and in all stages of their pregnancy. Because the bill is expansive, women who are detained by immigration services, women who are in private prisons and women in detention centers would all be protected by the law.

Currently, there are no strict, uniform and legally binding laws in every state for the treatment of pregnant women in detention centers.

Mendiola-Martinez’s lawsuit claims her right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment was violated by the officers handling her. She will be seeking a jury trial and damages.

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