A federal lawsuit filed last week alleges that corrections officers at the County Jail shackled pregnant inmates receiving medical attention and giving birth.
The suit, filed by Melissa Hall, seeks class action status. It is the second such lawsuit filed against Milwaukee County and Sheriff David Clarke.
The same law firm -- Loevy & Loevy, of Chicago (more on the firm here and here) -- is involved in both suits. In the first suit, the plaintiff is identified only as Jane Doe. That suit also includes allegations that Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by a county jailer Xavier D. Thicklen.
Jane Doe and Melissa Hall are different ages, according to the complaints filed in each case, and so do not appear to be the same woman.
The Jane Doe case is pending before U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller. The Melissa Hall suit has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Jones, but either side in the case can object to having a magistrate judge preside in the matter.
Stadtmueller denied a motion from lawyers on both sides in the Jane Doe case asking for separate trials for the class action allegations and sexual assault allegations. The judge ordered the trial to begin June 5, but the filing of the Melissa Hall lawsuit could affect that timeline.
The new suit alleges that Hall, 27, was pregnant during her incarceration at the jail from February to August 2013. She was "forced to receive pre-natal care, labor, give birth and undergo post-partum treatment while shackled," according to the complaint.
"For example, when Plaintiff was hospitalized for childbirth and left her hospital bed to go to the bathroom, she was made to wear a 'belly-chain' around her waist with her wrists attached to the waist and her legs attached to one another by leg irons," the complaint says.
Deputies refused to unshackle her during delivery, despite requests to do so from Hall's caregivers, the complaint says.
The jail's shackling policy applies to all inmates regardless of their criminal or medical histories, the suit alleges.
Shackling a woman during labor can hamper medical staff delivering emergency care, the suit says.
For pregnant women, "Belly chains and leg irons can impact the mother's balance and increase the risk of falls thereby endangering the life and health of the child," the suit said. "Cuffing a woman's hands may prevent the breaking of a fall and impede a woman's ability to protect her stomach."
Many health organizations oppose the use of restraints and the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons have restricted use of restraints on pregnant women, the suit said.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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