Atty. representing woman who gave birth alone in a jail cell: ‘One of the most inhumane cases in my career’
A recent lawsuit filed in a Maryland federal court alleges that a woman who was detained in the Washington County Detention Center last year received no help from sheriffs deputies and nurses as she gave birth to her first child, alone on a cold jail floor.
The suit claims Jazmin Valentine, who was booked into the jail in July 2021 from a warrant in Virginia for an alleged probation violation, was more than eight months pregnant at the time. Sheriff’s deputies and nurses knew Valentine was late into her pregnancy as she was placed in a cell near a nurse’s station.
However, the suit alleges that jail personnel and the nurses with the jail’s medical provider, PrimeCare Medical Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa., failed to take “any action of any kind to make sure Ms. Valentine was being cared for medically.”
“I’ve dealt with some pretty egregious behavior by people. I would say this is one of the most inhumane cases in my career,” Valentine’s attorney, Andrew D. Freeman with the firm Brown, Goldstein and Levy of Baltimore, said in an interview Monday. “I just cannot imagine any human being listening to a woman screaming in labor and not offering to help. Let alone jail guards and nurses who were the only people in position to help and [had] the responsibility to help.”
But according to the suit, this is what transpired.
Valentine, who lives in Boonsboro, was booked in the county jail on July 2, 2021. The next day, she went into labor for more than six hours, the suit said.
A nurse ignored a sheriff’s deputy who informed nurses that Valentine was likely to give birth soon, but the suit claims one of the nurses told the deputy that Valentine’s condition “was the result of drug withdrawals.”
The suit claims jail staff laughed at Valentine and “was playing games trying to get out of her cell.”
However, “the pain was so intense that Ms. Valentine punched the cell walls while she was experiencing the worst contractions, which came every minute as the delivery was occurring,” according to the suit.
Valentine’s daughter was born shortly after midnight on July 4, 2021.
Sheriff’s deputies and the nurse delayed calling for paramedics, who arrived at the jail 30 minutes after the birth of Valentine’s baby; it took another 33 minutes before she was taken to the hospital, the suit claims.
With the unsanitary conditions at the jail, hospital staff determined the baby contracted a staph infection and weighed 4 pounds and 8 ounces at birth.
Danielle Weaver, a spokesperson for the county, said in an email Monday the county has no comment.
A representative for PrimeCare Medical did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Besides the lawsuit listing Washington County and PrimeCare Medical as defendants, it also names Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore (D), a sergeant, two sheriff’s deputies and four nurses with PrimeCare Medical.
The lawsuit filed last Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages including “but not limited to those for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary loses, physical and mental pain, humiliation, discomfort, fear, anxiety, loss of employment of life, loss of liberty, privacy and sense of security and individual dignity.”
In addition, the suit seeks a written apology from each defendant, imposition of policy changes at the jail and mandatory training to avoid future misconduct.
“I hope it sends a message to Washington County, to every county in America and every health care provider that provides services in jails and prisons in America that they need to take care of their obligations seriously,” Freeman said. “Just because someone’s been arrested doesn’t mean they lose their right to decent medical care. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and yet Washington County sheriffs nor the nurses seemed to care about that.”
The case has attracted the attention of the Women Legislators of Maryland.
Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery), the president of the women’s caucus, said livestock are often treated better than Valentine’s alleged treatment.
“No detained individual under the care of our state or counties should be forced to give birth in solitary confinement, with their pain dismissed or ignored,” Lopez said. She added that the caucus would consider whether legislation might prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Meanwhile, Freeman said Valentine and her baby are doing fine.