In July 2016, a newborn baby died at the Milwaukee County Jail after the mother was forced to give birth on her cell floor. Now, three months after Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke’s Office was sued over the baby’s death, the controversial law enforcement leader is being sued for additional jail abuse of pregnant women.
According to a federal lawsuit filed on March 14, plaintiff Melissa Hall was shackled before, during, and after childbirth at a local hospital in 2013. A “belly chain” was allegedly wrapped around her waist when she needed to use the restroom, and she had “her wrists attached to the waist and her legs attached to one another by leg-irons.” Hall claims the jail deputies also denied medical providers’ request to take the chains off her during childbirth, which made it difficult for those providers to give her an epidural.
“The shackling and its consequences caused emotional and physical pain and suffering, discomfort, left marks on Plaintiff’s body, and exposed her to unreasonable risks of harm,” the lawsuit states.
Hall is the only plaintiff named so far, but her attorneys hope to represent more than 40 other women who were shackled while pregnant under Clarke’s leadership. The lawsuit claims that his jail has a “blanket shackling policy” as opposed to one that considers the security threat and risks associated with shackling individual women.
The shackling of pregnant detainees is a widespread trend, despite health risks to women and their babies. The practice leaves marks and bruises and prohibits women’s movement during labor and childbirth, rendering them unable to find a position to minimize pain. The restraints impede women’s balance, and hinder doctors’ ability to perform emergency procedures and maneuver the mothers to ensure a safe delivery.
Several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement restrict the use of shackles on pregnant women, reserving the chains for detainees who are considered a safety or security threat.
“The misconduct described in this Count was undertaken with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference to the rights of others, and was objectively unreasonable,” Hall’s lawsuit says. Her allegations are the most recent in a long line of abuse accusations lodged at Clarke and his jail. In June, Clark will appear in court as a defendant in a class action lawsuit regarding the jail’s shackling of additional pregnant women from February 2010 on.
The Milwaukee jail is also known for an alarming number of deaths in 2016. Four people died within its walls last year, including the newborn baby and a male detainee who died of thirst.
Clarke himself is an enthusiastic supporter of President Donald Trump and a proponent of vigilante justice. In the past he encouraged violence against Trump’s opponents and said Black Lives Matter activists are “black slime” who should be “eradicated from American society.”