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South Carolina: Lawsuit Alleges Medical Staff, Guards Negligent in Baby’s Death

by Bill Barton

Sinetra Geter Johnson discovered she was pregnant just two days before she was required to report to prison on a parole violation. In October 2012, she began serving a two-year sentence at the Camille Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. Twenty-four years old at the time, it was her first pregnancy. She was carrying twins: a girl, Karmin, and a boy, Kamrin.

Kamrin was born successfully in an ambulance parked on prison grounds. Tragically, however, Karmin was born preceding Kamrin, while her mother was sitting on a toilet in a prison bathroom. The baby girl did not survive; the twins were born 14 weeks early.

According to April 2019 news coverage of the incident, Karmin’s death could have been prevented if prison officials “had responded to Johnson’s calls – and later screams – for help” while she was in labor. Johnson filed a lawsuit in state court.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. A nurse checked her vital signs, but she did not receive a vaginal exam and was not seen by an OB/GYN. Instead, Johnson, still in pain, was sent to work at the prison’s clothing plant. Hours later, she returned to the medical unit but was sent away.

That evening, Johnson again went to the clinic and again was turned away, according to her lawsuit. At 11:15 p.m., in extreme pain, she rushed to a bathroom. “I still wasn’t sure ... that it was labor because it was my first child. I had never been pregnant [before],” she said. “I’m doing this alone. I’m in prison.” As she sat on the toilet she gave birth to Karmin, who was still inside her amniotic sack. “I had my first child inside the restroom there at SCDC in the dorm,” Johnson stated.

Although she screamed for help, no guards responded. Other prisoners put Johnson in a wheelchair and took her to the medical unit. Guards reportedly left Karmin in the toilet for 45 minutes, then put the baby’s body in a hazmat bag. She reportedly suffocated in the amniotic sack. After giving birth to Kamrin in the ambulance, Johnson was taken to a hospital and then returned to the prison five hours later.

“[This] shouldn’t have to happen,” Johnson said. “Inmate or not, we’re still people.”

According to her lawsuit, Karmin could have survived her premature birth had prison staff provided timely medical care. Johnson was released from prison in 2014 and reunited with her son.

As of December 2018, at least 83 medical malpractice lawsuits against the DOC were pending, according to news reports, and over the past four years South Carolina has paid more than $10.5 million in litigation related to medical care for prisoners, based on data from the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund. 



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