Black woman shackled by police during active labor settles with NYC

"The first breath that this baby had on this earth was one born out of violence. That was violence, what the NYPD did to her," said her attorney Anne Oredeko

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A New York woman won a lawsuit after being forced to give birth while handcuffed.

The woman, who has been identified as Black, settled with the city of New York and the police department on Wednesday. According to CNN, she was handcuffed, and her feet were shackled while giving birth to her baby boy.

The woman spoke out on the case of anonymity but has been awarded a $750,000 settlement by a US district magistrate judge for the Eastern District of New York. She filed charges against New York City and several New York Police Department officers anonymously back in October. She sought justice due to damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs, and violation of her civil rights.

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“The first breath that this baby had on this earth was one born out of violence. That was violence, what the NYPD did to her,” said her attorney Anne Oredeko, supervising attorney of the racial justice unit at The Legal Aid Society to 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.”

The woman was arrested at her home on December 17, 2018, for a misdemeanor assault charge. The case was eventually dropped. She was 40 weeks and two days pregnant and had already begun to have contractions before being arrested.

“The NYPD arresting officers knew that (she) was extremely pregnant, remarking on it to her as they took her into custody,” read the lawsuit. “There was no urgent need to arrest (her) that day.”

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Once in the holding cell at a Brooklyn precinct later that day, she began having contractions.

“It was a lady next to me in the next cell. She was talking to me the whole time, she was hearing me in pain. She kept timing it for me,” said the woman to CNN. “But everybody was at a Christmas party and nobody was to be found — to the point of where I basically got attention (only) on the next shift. That really made me feel like they didn’t care.”

In pain, a guard finally came to help her but requested to inspect her “vaginal area.” 

“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,” she shared with the news outlet.

She was eventually taken to a hospital to give birth but remained shackled. When she asked for them to be removed as she was in labor, an officer said he could not because of policy.

“He finally agreed to remove them after nurses informed him that (she) needed to begin pushing and that the handcuffs were preventing her from receiving an epidural,” according to the suit.

After the baby was born at 6 a.m. on December 18, she was handcuffed again, even while breastfeeding. Both the mother and baby had fevers after she gave birth and because of distress and jaundice, she was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit.

“That was not my birth plan. I felt like a failure to my unborn because that wasn’t something that was planned for neither of us,” said the mother. “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 restraints were not removed until December 19. The mother and son were released after a video arraignment.

Photo: Legal Aid/ Gothamist

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Restraining pregnant women has been illegal in  New York since 2015. Still, restraints can be used “in consultation with the chief medical officer” who determines if restraints “are necessary to prevent such woman from injuring herself or medical or correctional personnel.”

The incident is not isolated and opened up a larger conversation on if woman can be shackled while giving birth.

The NYPD did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement. In 2019 a department spokeswoman said they will update its patrol guide “to better address safety and medical concerns,” for those far along with pregnancies and while giving birth.

“At the same time, the NYPD will balance these needs with the safety of patients, medical staff, police officers, and others charged with the care and custody of all prisoners,” said NYPD Det. Sophia Mason at the time in a statement.

The guide has been updated to say:

“A pregnant prisoner in labor shall not be handcuffed or restrained in any manner, and will only be handcuffed or restrained post-delivery upon the existence of exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances regarding the appropriate level of restraint will be determined by the immediate supervisor on a case by case basis.”

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