Three women detained in the Orange County jail say they were ignored or offered substandard medical care while pregnant, eventually leading to the deaths of their newborn infants, according to a recent update to a sweeping class-action lawsuit against the county.
The update to the suit filed in April — reported first by the Orange County Register — alleges the three infant deaths might’ve been avoided if the women had been attended to.
In the case of Sandra Quinones, she alleged she'd been in the jail’s custody for six months when her water broke in March 2016, according to KNBC, Los Angeles’ NBC affiliate. At that point, she hit the call button to ask for help in her cell. Jail deputies drove her to the hospital more than two hours after she first asked for help, she alleges, at which point they paused for a coffee break at Starbucks.
The baby died later at the hospital.
Another woman, Ciera Stoetling, alleges she gave birth in the county jail in May 2018 after she informed staff she was pregnant and told a jail nurse she was having contractions.
The nurse told her there wasn’t enough staff to take her to the hospital and that she’d have to wait two more days. Her baby later died, but the county’s district attorney’s office concluded in June that the death was natural and there was no wrongdoing on the jail’s part.
Stoetling had allegedly been arrested on drug-related allegations and smoked meth while 23 weeks pregnant, the county noted, according to KNBC. (Meth use can result in pregnancy complications, but it’s unclear if that’s what contributed to the baby’s death.)
In the third and most recent instance, an unnamed woman alleged she was denied medical care in late July, resulting in the death of her baby. In a July 30 press release, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said a 30-year-old woman was transferred to a local hospital for an incident “related to her pregnancy,” and it was later determined her baby had died at 27 weeks. She had been booked into the jail just days earlier, on July 21, for two misdemeanor warrants, according to the news release.
The local sheriff’s office denied the allegations in a written statement to the Orange County Register and said that “many of the allegations in the lawsuit are rooted in a perspective that is anti-incarceration.”
The sheriff’s office has not yet responded to a VICE News request for comment.
A study of pregnancy in state and federal prisons published in May showed that the nation’s female inmate population has rapidly ballooned, resulting in a possible increase in pregnant, jailed women that often goes unstudied or unreported. Similarly, a federal lawsuit filed in Colorado last month alleged a woman was forced to give birth alone in her Denver County jail cell
However, the allegations of the jailed mothers aren’t the only ones lodged against the Orange County jail. Inmates also alleged that privileged calls with their attorneys were monitored and recorded and that they had been denied access to religious services in the original version of the class-action lawsuit filed in April. Some inmates reported being held in solitary confinement or isolation for years.
Cover: A sheriff deputy checks on detainees in an isolation unit at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)