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Lawsuit: Woman Gave Birth Alone in Colorado Jail Cell

by Kevin Bliss

Diana Sanchez gave birth to her son on July 31, 2019 at the Denver County Jail (DCJ), with no assistance from the medical staff. Guards and medical personnel watched from a remote location through a live video feed as Sanchez went through five hours of labor, ultimately delivering her child in her cell. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.51].

Represented by attorney Mari Newman, Sanchez filed suit against the City and County of Denver, the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, two nurses and four sheriff’s deputies in August 2019. The suit claims that she suffered unnecessary pain and humiliation, and that neither she nor her baby received even the most basic medical care.

Sanchez was booked into the DCJ for writing a check on her sister’s bank account. She was eight months pregnant at the time, was on prescribed methadone for opiate withdrawal and had other high-risk pregnancy issues that could result in premature birth. An examination on July 30 ended with a nurse telling Sanchez that she was to immediately call for assistance if she felt any contractions or vaginal leakage.

Sanchez went into labor about 5 a.m. the next day. Screaming in pain, she told a guard that she needed medical attention. The nurse, informed by the guard, ignored Sanchez’s call for help. He did not even request an ambulance to transport her to the hospital. The guards requested a transport van, but knew it would not arrive until after the morning booking process was over, hours later.

The nurses and guards were evidently monitoring the birth through a video feed but did not come to Sanchez’s cell to help her. That was apparent because about 45 minutes before she gave birth, an absorbent pad was slid under the door. A nurse entered 15 minutes after the baby was born to clean him, but did not even have the necessary tools to cut the umbilical cord.

Sanchez’s lawsuit claims that an internal investigation found DCJ staff did not commit any misconduct, yet the jail’s policy was changed so guards could call for an ambulance at any stage during a pregnant prisoner’s labor.

“That pain was indescribable,” Sanchez said of giving birth in her cell. “What hurts me more though is the fact that nobody cared.” Her suit remains pending. See: Sanchez v. City and County of Denver, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:19-cv-02437-DDD-NYW. 

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Additional sources: usatoday.com, abc7.com, theguardian.com, washingtonpost.com

Related legal case

Sanchez v. City and County of Denver