A 27-year-old pregnant woman detained by police was forced to give birth with her hands handcuffed and ankles shackled to a New York Police hospital bed, according to a lawsuit.
The woman, who remains anonymous, was reportedly already in labour when police officers took her out of a holding cell in the Bronx and brought her to nearby Montefiore Medical Centre on 8 February.
Doctors at the medical centre warned that the restraints were illegal in New York and posed serious risks for a woman in labour.
However, the officers said the department’s Patrol Guide required them to restrain the woman, superseding state law.
The woman struggled for nearly an hour in labour before the officers removed some of the restraints, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court in Manhattan. She delivered the baby with her right hand still cuffed to the hospital bed.
The woman said the experience had humiliated and traumatised her and had left her unable to tell her family.
“I haven’t made sense of it myself and I’m not ready to explain it to my child,” she said in an affidavit.
The lawsuit seeks damages for a violation of the woman’s civil rights and asks that the Police Department change its policies to ensure that its officers never shackle a pregnant woman in custody again.
“Shackling is a dehumanising, cruel and pointless practice that has no place in New York City in 2018,” the lawsuit said.
In 2010, the AMA issued a policy against shackling, arguing that “freedom from physical restraints is especially critical during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery,” and that “restraints on a pregnant woman can interfere with the medical staff’s ability to appropriately assist in childbirth or to conduct sudden emergency procedures.”
After learning of the lawsuit, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez urged Councilman Donovan Richards, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, to investigate the allegations and schedule a hearing.
“The reported facts should be fully investigated and if true, those responsible should be held fully accountable and face the consequences of their actions,” Rodriguez said in an emailed statement Friday. “Incarcerated women deserve humane and considerate treatment while bringing a new life into this world, and being handcuffed during labor is a cruel and demeaning practice that poses serious health risks.”