New York City police officers forced a woman to be shackled and handcuffed while she was going into labor at a Bronx hospital, a new federal lawsuit charges.
The then-27-year-old woman, identified as “Jane Doe,” was 40 weeks pregnant and went into labor inside a holding cell at the 47th precinct early one morning on February 8 this year. She had been arrested the previous night on a misdemeanor criminal charge brought by an ex-partner, which stemmed from an argument the two had at a store five months earlier.
The woman was transported from the police station to the Montefiore Medical Center, where police shackled her wrists and ankles to the bed.
According to the complaint, filed Thursday, doctors repeatedly told the officers that shackling women who are in labour is illegal under state law. Officers responded that the NYPD patrol guide stated otherwise.
“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,” the complaint states. Eventually, police gave in and removed some of her shackles.
She was still forced to deliver her daughter with one arm cuffed to the bed. “Shortly after she gave birth, NYPD officers again shackled her, ignoring the doctor’s continued pleas,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Doe struggled to feed her new baby with one arm.”
The suit says that she “never struggled, resisted, or acted in any way that would even remotely support the use of restraints.”
“Ms. Doe suffered physical pain, discomfort, trauma, and severe emotional distress as a result of this incident,” the complaint states. “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.”
New York is one of 26 states that outlaws shackling women who are in labor (which means, shockingly, that 24 states do not outlaw it). The lawsuit cites the view held by top medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that shackling women during labour, delivery and postpartum recovery increases the potential for harm to the woman and baby, and can interfere with medical staff’s ability to assist in childbirth or sudden emergencies.
The NYPD did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.