Civil Rights

Jailers neglected pregnant inmate, and unborn child died, planned lawsuit alleges

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A woman has filed notice that she intends to sue the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office for improper medical care leading to the loss of her unborn child, the Washington Post and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Jennifer Jawson was in Milwaukee County Jail for a week in 2016 on a probation violation related to a conviction for fraud, the Journal-Sentinel said. She was eight months and three weeks pregnant at the time, and her attorney, Jason Jankowski, says a hospital gave her a clean bill of health before she was jailed.

But Jawson was also taking methadone, a drug used to treat opiate addiction, and she alleges that jail staff would not give her the drug. Three days after she was booked, the Washington Post says, she began feeling strong pain and contractions. Rather than taking her to a hospital, jail officials gave her Tylenol 3, which contains codeine, an opioid. Unlike methadone, codeine is not considered safe in pregnancy, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more research is needed.

Five days later, the Post says, jail medical staff did a daily check for a fetal heartbeat and found none. Jail officials then decided to send Jawson to a hospital.

On Jawson’s way to the hospital, the Journal-Sentinel says, the Sheriff’s Department officially released her from jail. This may mean the department will not be required to investigate the death or report it to state officials, as they must do with all in-custody deaths. A spokeswomanfor the Sheriff’s Department declined to address the Journal-Sentinel’s questions about the death or any potential investigations.

Jawson’s notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit against a Milwaukee County agency, is the fifth alleging that inadequate medical care in Milwaukee County Jail led to a death in 2016. According to the Journal-Sentinel, one of the other deaths was also an infant, whose mother, Shadé Swayzer, gave birth in a jail cell, apparently without any jailers noticing. The child was pronounced dead hours later. Swayzer, who reportedly suffers from mental illness, the Journal-Sentinel previously reported, is also represented by Jankowski. Another death of an inmate who died of dehydration after his access to water was shut off for six days, has been ruled a homicide.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. told Dan O’Donnell of Milwaukee radio station, WISN that Jawson’s story is “a fake news jihad that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has against me.” In an interview with the Guardian, published before Jawson filed her claim, he said concern about the four other jail deaths was a “manufactured issue. This is a disguised political attack.”

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