Denver lawsuit alleges woman had to give birth alone in jail cell

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Media caption,

Surveillance footage shows Diana Sanchez gave birth alone in the cell

A woman in Denver, Colorado, is suing the city and sheriff staff, alleging she had to give birth alone in a jail cell with no medical assistance.

Diana Sanchez claims in a complaint that she was forced to deliver her baby last year "on a cold hard bench, feet away from a toilet" in the county jail.

She alleges staff knew she was in labour for hours but ignored her.

The Denver sheriff's department told the BBC it conducted a review and found staff had acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, names the city and county of Denver, the Denver Health Medical Center and six other individuals as defendants, alleging they "utterly failed to satisfy their legal and moral duty".

According to KDVR News, Ms Sanchez was booked into the Denver County Jail on 14 July 2018, aged 26, on identity theft charges.

Ms Sanchez's complaint alleges she notified health personnel at the time of her booking that she was more than eight months pregnant.

On 31 July Ms Sanchez reported to deputies that she was in active labour, says the complaint.

It states she spoke with prison deputies and nurses "at least eight times that morning, informing them each time that she was experiencing contractions".

But, the lawsuit says, she ended up in labour alone in her cell for the next four to five hours with no medical care.

'Emotional trauma'

A nurse examined her after her waters broke, but only provided an absorbent pad and did not recommend calling an emergency ambulance, the suit alleges.

"What should have been one of the happiest days of her life was instead a day of unnecessary terror, pain, and humiliation that continues to cause her on-going emotional trauma," the complaint states.

A spokeswoman for the Denver Sheriff's Department (DSD) told the BBC that Denver Health Medical provides "comprehensive medical care at both of our jails" and that professionals are "housed in the jail facilities and have dedicated medical units" to provide care.

"We empathise with anyone who is in jail while pregnant, including Ms Sanchez," the statement said. "Ms Sanchez was in the medical unit and under the care of Denver health medical professionals at the time she gave birth.

"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 labour are now transported immediately to the hospital."

An earlier statement from the department noted that Sheriff Patrick Firman had immediately ordered a "thorough DSD investigation" after the incident, and "it was determined that the Deputy Sheriffs took the appropriate actions under the circumstances and followed the relevant policies and procedures".

But Ms Sanchez's lawsuit alleges that in the minutes after the birth, none of the nurses present dried or warmed the baby, cleared the mucous from the baby's nose and mouth, administered antibiotics, weighed or measured the baby.

Ms Sanchez told KDVR last year: "They put my son's life at risk. When I got to the hospital, they said that I could have bled to death."

The lawsuit says the staff's "outrageous conduct" violated Ms Sanchez and her baby's constitutional rights.

"This suit is brought to hold to account the officials who cruelly chose convenience over compassion."