Woman left alone as she gave birth in jail cell says 'pain was indescribable'

Clark Mindock

Colorado woman is suing after she was forced to give birth to her child, alone in a jail cell, while screaming and pleading for help from staff that paid her virtually no mind.

In the hours leading up to the birth of her child on July 31, 2018, surveillance footage shows 26-year-old Diana Sanchez repeatedly attempt to alert jail staff that she was in labour, her water had broken, and that she was in desperate need of medical attention.

But, instead of providing help to Ms Sanchez as she writhed in pain and screamed, staff at the Denver County Jail, alongside nurses from the Denver Health Centre, largely ignored her pain and pleas. As she begged for help, staff can only be seen providing a sanitary pad, slipped under her door less than an hour before she gave birth.

“That pain was indescribable,” Ms Sanchez said in an interview with local media outlet KDVR last year. She continued, "and what hurts me more though is the fact that nobody cared.”

Screenshot, Denver Sheriff's Department

In an interview, Mari Newman, Ms Sanchez's attorney who filed suit on Wednesday, told The Independent that "the fact that they didn’t immediately take her to the hospital is outrageous."

“This is definitely emblematic of a lack of attention to the lesser among us,” she said. “I think as a society the propensity to treat humans as throwaways is disgusting. And this is one of far too many examples of that.”

Ms Newman, a civil rights lawyer in Denver, filed a lawsuit on behalf of her client on Wednesday, claiming that “what should have been one of the happiest days of” her client’s life had instead been one of “unnecessary terror, pain, and humiliation,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit comes months after the conclusion of an internal investigation, conducted by the Denver Sheriff’s Department, which cleared its deputies of wrongdoing.

A spokesperson for the sheriff department told KDVR on Wednesday that the investigation showed deputies “took the appropriate actions under the circumstances and followed the relevant policies and procedures.”

But, she added that, “Policy has since been clarified that when an inmate is in labour, an emergency ambulance will be called.”

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The results have left Ms Newman feeling disappointed, but she charged in an interview that the circumstances her client faced a year ago are part of a pattern in Denver and elsewhere in the US that has enabled law enforcement to ignore medical issues for vulnerable members of society, like inmates.

“We sue them all the time,” Ms Newman said of the city of Denver, after detailing a previous case in the city that she said should have stopped the kind of situation faced by Ms Sanchez.

That case, from over a decade ago, centred upon 24-year-old Emily Rice, who was taken into police custody after a motor vehicle accident, and denied healthcare. Rice had suffered a lacerated liver and spleen, and bled to death in the jail for more than 20 hours.

In the $3 million settlement that followed, Ms Newman said the City of Denver had committed to a series of safeguards that would require jail staff to continuously notify others of visible health conditions for inmates, or for them to call outside medical services if nothing is done.

“Obviously, this case shows that Denver failed to live up to that commitment, that binding legal commitment, and violated the constitution yet again,” Ms Newman said.

Ms Sanchez suffers from lingering issues related to the trauma of that day, and her child appears to be in good health.

During an interview with KDVR last year, she said that hospital staff, when she was finally taken to one, said that she was close to death.

“They put my son’s life at risk,” Ms Sanchez said then. “When I got to the hospital, they said that I could have bled to death.”