FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony is “highly disgusted” over allegations he’s heard so far from an internal investigation after an inmate gave birth in a cell.
The woman who recently gave birth to her baby boy in a Broward jail cell says she begged in vain for anyone to come help. She says she was terrified of having a miscarriage — left alone until minutes before her child was born.
Stephanie Bretas, in an exclusive interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, on Friday gave a harrowing account of delivering her son in jail, describing squalid conditions and decrying the indifference of nurses and detention deputies who failed to help her until it was nearly too late.
Bretas, 28, had been in custody at the North Broward jail in Pompano Beach on a burglary charge. She said she first started experiencing contractions in the early afternoon of Sept. 27, but didn’t recognize the urgency. The baby wasn’t due for another few weeks, she said.
When she complained about the pain, the nurse in the jail’s infirmary offered her a prenatal vitamin. Bretas turned it down. As the afternoon wore on and the pain kept coming back stronger and stronger, Bretas said she began to worry.
“I had not seen a doctor in three days,” she said. She said she told the nurse she might be miscarrying. But the nurse would not call a doctor, she said. “You have to fill out a form with what symptoms you’re having to get a doctor,” Bretas said.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office was reviewing records to determine when Bretas had last seen a doctor. Under the recently enacted Tammy Jackson Law, an incarcerated pregnant woman must be seen by a “qualified health professional” at least once every 24 hours.
Bretas said she threw up shortly after saying she might be losing the baby and was told to clean it herself.
“They just wanted me to see how much pain I could endure,” she said.
It wasn’t until Bretas was lying on her back and ready to give birth that her cell door opened, she said.
“The baby’s head was coming in and out and in and out and they finally broke in,” she said. “It was at the end. They came in and held my leg and he came out.”
The baby boy is now in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families. Bretas said she has seen him, but she and her attorneys declined to disclose any other information.
Bretas, who stands accused of breaking into a Lighthouse Point home and living there undetected for a week, was released from custody two days after giving birth and is staying with her father in Boca Raton.
While the incident is under investigation and Tony said it has not been confirmed, his initial review of the situation was enough for Tony to fire two top jail administrators within a day of his learning about it.
“No one is immune from accountability,” he said Friday. “The expectations are very high. I will not apologize for that.”
Tony also warned that if Bretas’ allegations are true, “further disciplinary action will be taken.”
Col. Gary Palmer and Lt. Col. Angela Neely were both fired Thursday, less than 24 hours after Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes wrote a letter demanding accountability.
“It comes down to decency,” Tony said. “It comes down to common sense. … Where is the care when we’re talking about someone who is calling for help?”
Tony declined to outline everything that may have gone wrong in the episode, reminding reporters that an internal affairs investigation is underway. “I am highly disgusted at the allegations,” he said. “We have not been right in terms of what we could have done, if these allegations are true.”
He said he was justified in acting quickly on the firing of the command staff.
“This is about this entire agency changing its culture in terms of how we treat the people we’re supposed to serve, even the ones that are in custody,” he said.
Weekes did not praise or condemn the firings but acknowledged the sheriff’s need to set high expectations, especially in light of a law that was passed this year to address the protocols for the treatment of pregnant inmates.
The law was named for Tammy Jackson, who gave birth in a North Broward Jail cell in Pompano Beach in April 2019. The latest incident happened at the same facility.
“I believe there is a cultural issue inside the jail that needs to be addressed,” Weekes said. “They see inmates as sub-human, and I don’t think that’s how a jail should operate.”
A spokeswoman for Wellpath, the private company that provides health care at Broward’s jails, was working Friday to obtain information and determine what could be released in light of Bretas’ medical privacy rights.
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