Woman Claims Jail Staff Ignored Her Pleas, Causing Unborn Baby's Death

In another case against a jail becoming infamous for its mistreatment of inmates, a woman claims that her cries for help were ignored, resulting in the death of her child.

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. According to The Washington Post, 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 for violating her probation after a 2015 fraud conviction. As she was 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. Each day, medical staff were ordered to connect her to a fetal heart monitor, as well as give her doses of methadone, which CBS 58 reported that 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." According to court documents obtained by The Washington Post, when she explained her condition to the jail staff, she said they ignored her and refused to give Jawson her methadone treatments, 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 noted 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 over 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 did their routine assessment via 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, where doctors affirmed that the unborn baby had indeed died. The next day, they induced labor and, according to the claim, 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, alleged to The Washington Post that 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 said.

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 in 2016. In one of the cases, a man died of dehydration, and in another, the newborn infant of prisoner Shade Swayzer died after Swayzer was forced to give birth in her jail cell, allegedly 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

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