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New York City Prisoner Shackled While Giving Birth; $610,000 Settlement

by Ed Lyon

A New York City resident, identified as Jane Doe in a lawsuit, gave birth on February 8, 2018 at 6:14 a.m. Although ordinarily not an unusual event, the circumstances leading up to and subsequent to this birth were anything but routine.

Doe was arrested on February 7, 2018 on a misdemeanor charge from a 2017 domestic disturbance dispute involving a custody order. She was visibly pregnant at her 40-week mark, and experienced a 30-hour ordeal that never should have occurred.

After being taken to the 47th Precinct station at 10:40 a.m., Doe was placed in a holding cell. She was given nothing to eat or drink all day and into the night. At 7:40 p.m., Doe began having contractions. She was handcuffed and taken to the Montefiore Medical Center (MCC). Doctors there admonished the escorting officers not to handcuff pregnant prisoners. The officers said they were following procedures in the New York Police Department (NYPD) patrol manual. When hospital staff learned Doe had received no food or water, they gave her a cheese sandwich and juice to help control her blood sugar. However, despite being in actual labor, hospital staff allowed the police to return Doe to their precinct headquarters. Again, she was handcuffed for the trip.

Regarding the shackling of pregnant women in police custody, New York’s state legislature enacted a law prohibiting placing a woman in labor or during the birth process in restraints. The law was codified in N.Y. Corr. Law § 611 (2009). In 2015, the legislature amended the anti-shackling law to prohibit all restraints “when such woman is in labor, admitted to a hospital, institution or clinic for delivery, or recovering after giving birth.”

From 9 p.m. until midnight, Doe remained in the precinct’s holding cell until shortly after midnight while she continued to experience contractions, including during her handcuffed early-morning trip to Central Booking. There she was turned away due to her advanced pregnancy and ongoing contractions. Thus, Doe returned to the 47th Precinct station, still handcuffed.

By 5 a.m., Doe’s contractions had become so acute she had to be returned to the MCC. She remained in restraints, and upon her admittance, escorting NYPD officers affixed leg shackles to her ankles. They were removed only long enough for Doe to don a hospital gown, and stayed on until just 10 minutes prior to her actually giving birth. Attending doctors noted that remaining shackled for that long caused needless birth complications.

Despite the doctors having to deal with heavy postpartum bleeding and other procedures that must be attended to after a patient has given birth, the officers replaced Doe’s leg shackles immediately after her child was born. However, they left one of her wrists free so she could nurse her newborn daughter. The leg shackles were removed when she needed to use the restroom.

Regarding the doctors’ protests of shackling Doe, NYPD Sergeant “John” Coca quoted the NYPD’s patrol manual which “requires all patients in custody to be cuffed or restrained in some manner.” According to Coca, that overruled any contrary state laws.

Doe was represented by New York City attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Ashok Chandran in a federal civil rights lawsuit. On July 1, 2019, the parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement in the amount of $610,000. Further, an NYPD official indicated that the department would amend its patrol manual “to better address safety and medical concerns” of pregnant women in custody – and, presumably, to conform to state law.

“The NYPD owes Ms. Doe a public apology for this incident, but the payment of this settlement and the revision of its policies will have to serve that function,” Rosenfeld stated. See: Jane Doe v. The City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. l:18-cv-11414-AKH. 


Additional sources:, CNN

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Related legal case

Jane Doe v. The City of New York