NYPD accused of ‘shackling’ pregnant woman until ‘moments’ before giving birth: Lawsuit

The woman was arrested two days before her due date in February 2018.

December 7, 2018, 1:57 PM

A pregnant woman who says she was forced to wear handcuffs on her wrists and ankles during labor is now suing the New York City Police Department.

"Against the vehement protests of medical staff, the NYPD refused to remove the shackles, compelling Ms. Doe to labor in excruciating pain and forcing doctors to examine Ms. Doe with her feet and hands bound," the lawsuit states, referencing the woman who is referred to only by a pseudonym.

"Moments before Ms. Doe delivered her daughter, a growing chorus of outraged doctors convinced the NYPD to briefly remove her shackles. At 6:14 a.m., Jane Doe gave birth to her daughter. Shortly after she gave birth, NYPD officers again shackled her, ignoring the doctors’ continued pleas. Ms. Doe struggled to feed her new baby with one arm," the lawsuit states.

The woman heard doctors at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx "express concern" both that the baby was "in some distress" during the delivery, and that she "experienced heavy bleeding" after the delivery, the suit states.

The City of New York along with the NYPD, five directly named officers and other anonymous officers are all listed as the defendants in the suit. The NYPD declined to comment to ABC News, citing ongoing litigation. The suit seeks damages for a violation of her civil rights and calls for the police force to change their policies to insure a similar situation doesn’t happen again.

Jane Doe had been arrested in connection with a family dispute with her ex-partner that happened five months before her Feb. 7, arrest, which was just two days before her due date, according to the lawsuit.

"There was no urgent need to arrest Plaintiff that day by any stretch of the imagination," the suit states.

The practice of "shackling" pregnant women is roundly condemned, including by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Public Health Association.

PHOTO: Montefiore Medical Center's Wakefield Campus in the Bronx, New York.
Montefiore Medical Center's Wakefield Campus in the Bronx, New York.
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Correctional groups, including the Correctional Association of New York, call it a "barbaric -- and illegal" practice. The state banned the use of shackles on women throughout labor, delivery and recovery in 2009.

The lawsuit argues that Jane Doe "never struggled, resisted, or acted in any way that would even remotely support the use of restraints."

"Ms. Doe was terrified for herself and for her baby. She feared that she would deliver the baby alone in a cell at the 47th Precinct without medical help. She feared that after she gave birth, the NYPD would take her baby away," the lawsuit states.

"She desperately wanted her partner and her own doctor to be present for the birth, at her chosen hospital, consistent with her birth plan. But she remained compliant, urging herself to stay calm for the safety of her baby. These events are seared in Ms. Doe’s memory; she experiences nightmares and relives the trauma over and over," the suit states.

The lawsuit also notes how this was not the only case in recent years where the city was sued because a pregnant woman was shackled while in custody. That suit was settled in May 2017, less than a year before the alleged incident at the heart of this new lawsuit occurred.

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that it shows multiple failures on the part of the NYPD.

"This raises the problem of not just the police department failing to respect the rights of women, but failing to have in place the systems that any well-run organization would have to learn from their mistakes. Why wouldn't they fix the problem that they paid to resolve around the same time?" Lieberman said.

"I think the fact that anybody at any level of the NYPD would think that shackling a pregnant woman as she's about to go into labor and throughout -- in 2018 -- is stunning, and a sad reflection on the state of affairs in the NYPD," Lieberman said.

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