Published January 31, 2007
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A woman whose premature baby died the day after she was arrested has sued the Kansas City Police Department and two officers who repeatedly ignored her pleas for medical help while they were arresting her.
A police videotape released Tuesday shows Sofia Salva telling police officers numerous times on Feb. 5, 2006, that she was pregnant, bleeding and needed to go to a hospital.
After the ninth request, a female officer asked: "How is that my problem?"
Salva, a Sudanese native, was held overnight on traffic violations and outstanding city warrants. After being released the next morning, she delivered a premature baby boy who died after one minute, according to a lawsuit Salva filed Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Salva sued officers Melody Spencer and Kevin Schnell and the Police Department for wrongful death, personal injuries and failure to provide medical assistance. Salva is seeking actual damages exceeding $25,000 and punitive damages to punish and deter such conduct in the future.
"The officers went into this with a preconceived idea of who and what they were dealing with, and they were wrong," said Salva's attorney, Andrew Protzman. "It's tragic."
The videotape was released to the media after The Kansas City Star requested it under Missouri's open records law.
Police have opened an internal investigation to determine exactly what happened, department spokesman Capt. Rich Lockhart said.
"It's a matter of trust. ... We want to make sure the community trusts us to get to the bottom of this regardless of the way it reflects on the police department," Lockhart said.
The officers stopped Salva after they saw her affixing a fake temporary tag on the back windshield of her car.
After the officers tell her why she was arrested, Salva is seen telling the officers she is having a miscarriage and is bleeding.
"Do you want to check me?" Salva asks on the tape. "I'm bleeding. I have a 3-month baby inside."
Schnell, who has worked for the department for less than two years, walks away from the car and tells his partner: "She just gave me a line of excuses. She said she's bleeding. She said you can check her."
Salva said: "I'm three months pregnant and I'm bleeding."
Spencer, a four-year veteran, replied: "OK. Why are you driving to the store and then putting a fake temporary tag in your car?"
"I took it because I want to go to the hospital," Salva said.
The officers made Salva sit on the curb as they searched her car, purse and grocery sacks.
Salva again tells the officers that she is bleeding and asks them to check her underwear and says she wants to go to the hospital.
"Well," Spencer said, "that will be something you can take care of when we get done with you."
After a drawn-out process to get Salva's identifying information, Salva is clearly upset.
"I have a baby in my stomach and I'm bleeding and I open my underwear for you to see."
"Stay seated!" Schnell yelled.
"If I die here, will you take care of me?" Salva said. "If I die here?"
"Fair enough," Schnell said.
Officers are then told Salva has outstanding city warrants for mistreatment of children, trespassing and several traffic violations, with bonds totaling $4,600.
After Salva is handcuffed, she again tells Schnell she is bleeding.
"I don't doubt that you're possibly bleeding, but you got a lot more problems with us," Schnell said.
No tapes were available of Salva's time in the jail, but she contends in the lawsuit that her continued pleas for help were ignored. The next morning, jailers let her go to a hospital after she passed a large blood clot. Salva delivered a premature baby boy, who lived for one minute.
The department's legal adviser said the tapes of Salva's time in jail had been recycled before it became aware of Salva's claims.