Jennifer Jawson, 35, plans to file an $8.5 million lawsuit against Milwaukee County, Sheriff David Clarke Jr., Milwaukee County inspectors, and other law enforcement officers. She is accusing them of ignoring her pleas for help when she was experiencing pregnancy complications, which ultimately led to her unborn child's death.
Jawson was booked into the Milwaukee Criminal Justice Center on Dec. 1, 2016 on the suspicion that she had violated her probation after a 2015 fraud conviction. Eight months and three weeks pregnant, the court recognized the strong possibility of her giving birth while in jail, and measures were taken to ensure she would be cared for. Every day, medical staff were to connect her to a fetal heart monitor and listen for her baby's heartbeat, as well as give her daily doses of methadone, which she had been prescribed in 2012 to treat her addiction to heroin.
On Dec. 2, the staff reported "strong fetal heart tones," but on Dec. 4, Jawson said she began experiencing "severe cramping and contractions." When she explained her condition to the jail staff, she said they ignored her. According to court documents, they also refused to give Jawson her daily treatment of methadone, despite it being considered safe for pregnant women and important to her recovery from addiction.
In the claim Jawson's attorneys filed as a precursor to the intended lawsuit, Jawson says that her jailers provided her with Tylenol 3 instead, which contains codeine, an opiate linked to high risks of birth defects in some studies. Court documents note that Tylenol 3 "is not a common medication prescribed to pregnant women because it is extremely dangerous to the baby. The dangers are worst for women in the final stages of pregnancy."
For a week, Jawson says she continued to complain of abdominal pains, but she was continually ignored except to monitor the baby's heartbeat and to give her Tylenol 3. On Dec. 9, when the medical staff connected her to the fetal heart monitor, there were no signs of life.
It was only then that officials decided that she should be taken to the hospital. Jawson's claim states that she was shackled to a gurney in the jail's garage to be transferred when a sergeant "informed [Jawson] that she was being released from custody." The timing causes one to look twice as the act is a bit unusual, as pregnant women often remain in police custody and in shackles while visiting the hospital for medical care. Jawson was unchained and transported to Mount Sinai Medical Center by ambulance.
At the hospital, doctors determined that the unborn baby had died. The next day, they induced labor and Jawson "was forced to give birth to a dead baby, who was healthy and viable prior to [Jawson] entering jail."
While the exact cause of the baby's death is unknown, her attorney, Jason Jankowski, alleges that much more could have been done on the part of Milwaukee County jail staff and officials to potentially prevent it.
"They didn't take her to the hospital until they couldn't find a fetal heartbeat," Jankowski told The Washington Post.
Sheriff Clarke made his first public comments on the case on the Dan O'Donnell Show on Wednesday, and his account differs greatly from Jawson's and Jankowski's. Among many other contradictory statements, he claims that Jawson was released from Mount Sinai and delivered her stillborn baby the next day at Columbia Saint Mary's. His timeline of her release from custody is also quite different.
"She was put into special needs, which is kind of what our hospital is inside the jail, and she's there the entire time. And then the hold is lifted, about a week later the probation hold is lifted so we release her. And legally, what we could have done is release her, kicked her out the front door, and said 'good luck to you.' But no. What we did was we conveyed her to a hospital in an ambulance. She's not in any duress at this time, but we thought, at least my staff thought, let's not do it the way we could do it. Let's take her to a hospital."
Clarke also referred to this case as a "political hit job" against him, a line of thinking that, according to reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (or as he calls them, "the Urinal Sentinel"), he likes to indulge in.
The jail where Jawson was held has been the site of four other deaths, all of which occurred last year. In one of the cases, a man died of dehydration, and in another, Shade Swayzer's newborn infant died after Swayzer was forced to give birth in her jail cell, apparently unnoticed by staff. She did not receive proper medical attention until nearly two hours after delivery. Jankowski is representing Swayzer as well.
According to the Journal Sentinel, sheriff's officials are required to report and investigate any deaths of those under police custody, however, since Jawson was released from custody before her baby was confirmed as dead (a point Clarke drives home repeatedly in his conversation with O'Donnell), it remains unclear if this protocol applies. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office declined to comment to the Journal Sentinel on whether or not an investigation into the events surrounding Jawson's loss was underway.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user John Ted Daganato