US woman left to give birth alone in jail cell sues city of Denver

Diana Sanchez goes into labor the morning of July 31, 2018 (AFP Photo/Handout)

Washington (AFP) - A Colorado woman is suing the city of Denver for causing her "unnecessary terror, pain and humiliation" after she was left alone in her jail cell while giving birth.

Video footage of the harrowing ordeal shows Diana Sanchez, now 27, going into labor the morning of July 31, 2018. Despite repeated calls for help, no guards or medical personnel entered her cell until she gave birth to her son.

"What should have been one of the happiest days of her life was instead a day of unnecessary terror, pain and humiliation that continues to cause her ongoing emotional trauma," Sanchez's lawyer Mari Newman said in a complaint filed Wednesday.

The suit claims the city and county of Denver, Denver Health Medical Center and six sheriff's deputies and nurses "utterly failed to satisfy their legal and moral duty."

US Senator Kamal Harris, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has weighed in on the issue, tweeting: "The inhuman treatment of detained pregnant women cannot be ignored."

Sanchez had been arrested for charges of identity fraud on July 14, 2018, and was awaiting trial. According to the complaint, she was more than eight months pregnant when she was arrested.

Denver Health personnel were aware that Sanchez was pregnant, and that she was going through opiate withdrawal, making her imminent labor particularly risky, the complaint said.

- 'Totally disorganized and unprepared' -

The day she gave birth, Sanchez told the deputies "at least eight times" that she was experiencing contractions. She also told them when her water broke.

The guards were also able to monitor her situation via live video feed from her cell and informed the jail nurse of Sanchez's situation, the complaint said.

Instead of calling an ambulance for Sanchez, the deputies and nurse on duty gave her an absorbent pad to sit on and requested a non-emergency van to take her to the hospital after they had finished booking in new inmates.

After almost six hours of labor, Sanchez gave birth to a boy. Only then did medical personnel enter her cell, and Sanchez and her son were taken to a hospital 30 minutes later.

"The Denver Health nursing staff proved totally disorganized and unprepared to care" for either the infant or his mother, Newman wrote in the complaint, noting that the staff either had not prepared or could not find the necessary post-birth equipment.

An internal investigation was conducted after the incident, which determined that "the Deputy Sheriffs took the appropriate actions under the circumstances and followed the relevant policies and procedures," according to a sheriff's department statement released last November.

"As a result, (Denver Sheriff's Department) policy was clarified to mandate that when an inmate is in labor an emergency ambulance will be called," the statement said.