A woman is suing the Milwaukee County jail, alleging that deputies refused to unchain her while she was giving birth because of a jail policy requiring inmates to remain shackled while they're hospitalized, regardless of the circumstances.
The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks class-action status, claiming at least 40 other women experienced similar circumstances at the jail since 2011.
The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, but generally the county can't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit contends that 27-year-old Melissa Hall was shackled every time she was hospitalized for pre-natal care, labor, and post-partum treatment during her incarceration in 2013 from February through August. The lawsuit doesn't state why Hall was in jail, and one of her attorneys, Theresa Kleinhaus, said she could not say.
Four people died at the county jail last year, including a newborn whose mother is suing. And last week, the sons of an inmate who died of dehydration at the jail last year also sued the sheriff.
Milwaukee's County jail has a policy of shackling all inmates when they're hospitalized, regardless of their criminal or medical history, according to the latest lawsuit. It says that when Hall was hospitalized to give birth, she had to wear a "belly chain" around her waist and leg irons whenever she went to the bathroom.
The lawsuit alleges that during labor, the medical staff asked sheriff's deputies to unshackle Hall but they refused. As a result, staffers had trouble administering an epidural and Hall was exposed "to unreasonable risks for harm," the lawsuit says.
The U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have all adopted policies restricting the use of shackles on pregnant women, the lawsuit notes.
Hall's attorneys are asking for a jury trial and seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.