Police officers in the Bronx forced a woman to give birth while handcuffed to a hospital bed, and refused to unshackle her even after doctors attempted to intervene, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.
The 27-year-old woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was 40 weeks pregnant when she was arrested this past February in connection with a domestic incident months earlier. Thirty hours after she was detained, the woman went into labor in her holding cell. She was subsequently transported to the Montefiore Medical Center in handcuffs.
"At the hospital, the NYPD shackled her at the wrists and ankles," the suit alleges. "Against the vehement protests of medical staff, the NYPD refused to remove the shackles, compelling Ms. Doe to labor in excruciating pain and forcing doctors to examine Ms. Doe with her feet and hands bound."
Moments before she gave birth, "a growing chorus of outraged doctors" convinced the officers to partially remove the shackles, the complaint notes. But she was handcuffed once again soon after delivery. According to the suit, the woman "struggled to feed her new baby with one arm."
New York is one of 26 states that explicitly prohibits shackling women in labor. A 2015 state law expanded those protections, making it illegal to restrain pregnant women on the way to the hospital, and for up to eight weeks after delivery. (At the time, the New York State Sheriff's Association came out against the legislation, claiming it was based on "political correctness.")
When medical staff at Montefiore informed Officer John Stalikas of the New York's law, he responded that they were "following procedures" laid out in the Patrol Guide, according to the suit. Stalikas then called his supervisor, Sergeant John Coca, who allegedly confirmed that NYPD rules dictated the woman be restrained. These conversations are backed up by medical records, the suit claims.
The handcuffs were not removed until nearly ten hours after the woman gave birth, when she was arraigned via video conference in her hospital bed, according to her lawyer, Katherine Rosenfeld. She was charged with a misdemeanor related to a custody matter.
"My client is a very strong person whose main concern throughout this was the safety of her baby and making sure she was born healthy," Rosenfeld told Gothamist. "The police misconduct is so degrading and dehumanizing. How someone could treat another person this way is beyond me."
As a result of the incident, the woman "suffered physical pain, discomfort, trauma, and severe emotional distress," the complaint alleges. "She has nightmares about being shackled and losing her baby. She fears future encounters with police. She struggles with anxiety and panic about the incident."
The woman is seeking damages for a civil rights violation, and a policy ensuring that the NYPD never again shackle a pregnant woman during delivery.
A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.