On Wednesday, a jury awarded $6.7 million dollars to a Jane Doe who testified that she was repeatedly raped by a guard in the Milwaukee County jail while she was pregnant, and later forced to give birth to her daughter in shackles.
The incidents took place four years ago, when the woman was 20 years old and in the early stages of pregnancy. According to the civil complaint, the victim was first sexually assaulted soon after she was held in pre-trial detention. While she was waiting for a medical examination, a corrections officer named Xavier Thicklen, who was responsible for transporting inmates to the clinic, approached her in her cell and touched her genitals. Thicklen then refused to take her to her doctor's appointment.
In another instance, Thicklen falsely told the woman that she had an an attorney visit to isolate and rape her. According to court documents, he threatened to send her to the maximum security area of the jail if she reported his actions to anyone. Thicklen sexually assaulted the woman five times. (He committed one of these assaults right before she went into labor, and another while she was recovering in the hospital a few days after giving birth.)
"He used his keys, his power, his authority to get in these places and rape me," she said during the trial, the Journal Sentinel reports.
Additionally, the victim was forced to give birth while she was in shackles; during the trial, she argued this served no purpose other than to punish her. Many prison reform and civil liberties organization have urged an end to this practice, which is unfortunately common.
"Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane. Although widely regarded as an assault on human dignity as well as an unsafe medical practice, women prisoners are still routinely shackled during pregnancy and childbirth," the ACLU said in a recent report. "During labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery, shackling can interfere with appropriate medical care and be detrimental to the health of the mother and her newborn child."
In a criminal trial in 2014, Thicklen maintained that he did not sexually assault the inmate, and took a plea deal for one felony count of misconduct in public office. According to Thicklen's lawyer, the misconduct charge was for giving Doe candy and gum and letting her make an unauthorized phone call. He was only sentenced to three days in jail and a fine of $200 dollars.
Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane.
However, the jury in the civil case found that Thicklen sexually assaulted the pregnant woman, and that the Milwaukee County was responsible and is liable for the $6.7 million in damages. Additionally, they determined that the use of restraints during her labor was "excessive," but did not award any damages for the incident.
The Milwaukee County jail, under Sheriff David Clarke, who announced in May that he will be transitioning into a position in the Trump administration's Department of Homeland Security though the appointment has not been confirmed by the agency, has seen several lawsuits for its alleged mistreatment of inmates. Earlier this year, a mentally ill man died of dehydration when he was refused water for days. A woman named Melissa Hall has also filed a class action suit against the jail due to its policy of shackling pregnant women. In the hospital, Hall says, she was forced her to wear a "belly chain" around her waist when she went to the bathroom and while she gave birth, although the doctors advised against it.
The legal pressure and national attention from Sheriff Clarke's rising profile has spurred some reforms at the jail. Doe's lawyer told Broadly that because of his client's lawsuit, "Milwaukee County ended the practice of shackling mothers while they are giving birth, as of February 2017."
Correction: This article originally ran with the headline "Woman Raped, Shackled During Childbirth in Jail of Trump's New Hire." The headline has been updated to clarify that Clarke's appointment has not been officially confirmed.