Lawsuit Says Denver Jail Staff Refused Woman Care As She Gave Birth In Cell

After Diana Sanchez told jail staff multiple times that she was in labor, she eventually gave birth alone over a pad on her cot.

Alone in a cell at the Denver County Jail, Diana Sanchez gave birth on a cot over an absorbent pad, mere feet from a toilet, even though jail staff knew she was in labor.

Footage of the hours-long labor, which took place on July 31, 2018, was captured on a video feed of her cell, and clips were obtained by HuffPost.

During labor, Sanchez appeared to cry out and shake in pain as she rushed to remove her pants and underwear, eventually giving birth to a boy as a deputy watched from the doorway. 

More than one year later, Sanchez, now 27, is filing a federal lawsuit against Denver County for a day of “unnecessary terror, pain and humiliation that continues to cause her ongoing emotional trauma.”

In an interview one month after giving birth, Sanchez told Fox 31 Denver that the pain she experienced that morning was “indescribable.”

“What hurts me more, though, is that fact that nobody cared,” she told the news station at the time.

Her attorney, Mari Newman, said jail staffers violated Sanchez’s constitutional right to adequate medical care, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, is protected by the Eighth Amendment.

“As a detainee in the jail, Ms. Sanchez had no ability do anything to obtain medical care other than alert jail staff that she was in labor,” Newman told HuffPost. “There is a constitutional obligation for jailers to provide medical care to detainees and inmates for this very reason: They have no ability to obtain medical care for themselves.”

The suit was filed in a U.S. District Court in Denver on Wednesday. The city of Denver, the Denver Health and Hospital Authority and six individuals are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

An edited video shows footage recorded in the five hours that Sanchez was in labor, starting with her telling staff she is having contractions up to Sanchez giving birth.

Newman said that county officials censored a portion of the video that shows the toilet in Sanchez’s cell.

“The only conclusion I can draw is that Denver somehow thinks that by hiding the open toilet, viewers won’t be as appalled by their abject indifference forcing Diana to give birth in a dirty cell without any medical care,” Newman told HuffPost.

The lawsuit claims that the jail staff took a “wait and see” approach to Sanchez’s labor, “as though it were not patently obvious to anyone ... that Ms. Sanchez was in labor and required immediate medical attention. ”

The lawsuit also claims that staff failed to provide care to Sanchez “based on automatic assumptions that inmates are lying about, faking, or exaggerating their symptoms.”

When Sanchez was booked at the Denver County Jail on July 14, 2018, she notified staff that she was more than eight months pregnant and that her due date was Aug. 9, 2018, according to the lawsuit.

On the morning of the birth, Sanchez labored alone for four to five hours. As seen in the video, a jail staffer slid an absorbent pad underneath Sanchez’s cell door 41 minutes before the baby was born. The baby can be seen sliding onto the pad as a man in medical gloves stands at the door.

Staff was able to watch the entire labor process “via a video feed from Ms. Sanchez’ cell, yet no medical care was provided,” according to the suit.

Diana Sanchez labored alone for four to five hours, eventually giving birth on her cot at the Denver County Jail.
Diana Sanchez labored alone for four to five hours, eventually giving birth on her cot at the Denver County Jail.

Sanchez’s suit accuses jail staffers and Denver Health nurses of failing to provide “even the most basic post-delivery medical care.” This includes immediately drying and warming the newborn, clearing mucus from the baby’s eyes and nose, administering antiseptic eye drops to prevent infection and giving the newborn a cap to keep his head warm.

The lawsuit also says jail staff and nurses didn’t give the newborn a vitamin K injection to prevent dangerous bleeding or a hepatitis B vaccine.

The baby, identified in court documents as J.S.M., was born at 10:44 a.m., but Denver Fire Department paramedics didn’t arrive at the jail until around 11 a.m.

As seen in the footage, medical personnel didn’t assist Sanchez until after the baby was already born.

Compounding the risk associated with Sanchez’s pregnancy, the lawsuit also notes that Sanchez was prescribed and taking methadone to prevent opiate withdrawal symptoms and premature labor associated with the withdrawals. 

Daria Serna, a spokesperson for the Denver Sheriff Department, issued a statement to NBC News on Thursday saying that Sanchez was in the medical unit of the jail and “under the care of Denver Health medical professionals at the time she gave birth. 

Serna also said that the sheriff’s department has since updated its policies so that pregnant inmates are transported immediately to the hospital.

“We empathize with anyone who is in jail while pregnant including Ms. Sanchez,” the statement read.

“To make sure nothing like this happens again, the Denver Sheriff Department has changed its policies to ensure that pregnant inmates who are in any stage of labor are now transported immediately to the hospital. Unfortunately, because there is a lawsuit pending, we are unable to provide further comment at this time,” Serna told NBC News.

The Denver Sheriff Department completed an internal investigation of the incident last year, Fox 31 reported in December. According to Newman, the department cleared its deputies of any wrongdoing. 

Newman said that the department’s statement claiming it had updated its policies is proof that deputies had violated a right.

“Denver’s apparent admission that its policy did not already require something so obvious ― providing medical care to an inmate in labor ― demonstrates just how indifferent Denver is to inmates’ medical needs and to its own constitutional obligations,” she told HuffPost.

“But this is clearly not just an issue of inadequate policies; it is emblematic of Denver’s culture of callousness and disdain toward people who lack the power to advocate for themselves,” Newman said.