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$250,000 Paid to Woman Forced to Give Birth in California Jail Cell by Guards and CFMG Nurses

by Ashleigh Dye

A woman who gave birth in a cell in 2017 at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, has been awarded $250,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed the following year against Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern and jail employees, including its privately contracted healthcare staffers. The order granting the motion for compromise on behalf of the woman’s child, identified as Baby H., was granted by the federal court for the Northern District of California on September 30, 2021.

The woman, Candace Steel, was taken into custody at the jail after an arrest on misdemeanor charges on July 21, 2017. She was at least eight months pregnant at the time, though she admitted she wasn’t sure of her due date, as she had not received any prenatal care before police taking her to the jail stopped en route at a local hospital—where she was medically cleared despite a diagnosed urinary tract infection that could cause pre-term labor if left untreated.

Two days later, her delivery contractions began. However, her complaints were waved away as exaggerations by nurses with California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider, and by jail guards, who placed her in an isolation cell as punishment. Her complaint recalled that “Deputies closed the slider-window on the door to the cell to muffle the sound of her screaming.”

There she gave birth to her daughter, who she named Hope, unwrapping the child’s umbilical cord from her neck and clearing her airway, after which the baby’s screams finally alerted jail staff that Steel had not been exaggerating, after all.

Aided by Oakland attorney Yolanda Huang, Steel filed suit on August 20, 2018, accusing jail staff of violating her Fourteenth Amendment due-process rights and also accusing the county, by its contract with CFMG, of encouraging the healthcare provider to ignore her serious medical needs, thereby extending liability for her resulting injuries to the county under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

Defendants moved to dismiss. The Court granted the motion as to Steel’s state-law claims on December 23, 2019, saying they were untimely filed outside the statute of limitations. But her civil rights claims survived. See: Steel v. Alameda Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 428 F. Supp. 3d 235 (N.D. Cal. 2019).

The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement agreement, under which all claims against the Sheriff’s office were dismissed and also those against CFMG, which merged with Correct Care Solutions in 2018 to form Wellpath, the nation’s largest healthcare provider to prisoners. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.1.]

The compromise agreement also provides a payment of $250,000 to Steel, including $50,000 for Baby Hope, with no deductions for legal fees and costs. The $50,000 payment is earmarked for an annuity to pay Hope $5,000 at age 18, plus $500 monthly for the next three years and another $751.01 monthly for the six years after that, until she reaches age 27. See: Steel v. Alameda Cty. Sheriff’s Office, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:18-cv-05072.

Regarding the settlement, Steele said, “It feels great. Once I get that money in my hands, it will be great for my husband and my kids.”

The charges against her, related to trespassing on Caltrans property, were also dismissed.

Steel said that she will invest some of the money and use it to purchase a home. She also said that Faith and Hope, her two daughters, “are doing great.” Sheriff’s office Spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly emphasized that it had not been found guilty of any liability.  

Additional source: KTVU

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Related legal case

Steel v. Alameda Cty. Sheriff’s Office