CHICAGO – A former Cook County Jail inmate has sued the county Sheriff's office, saying she was handcuffed to her hospital bed until just before she gave birth.
Marilu Morales was eight months pregnant in April 2008 when she was jailed for possession of controlled substances.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, Morales says that when she was in labor at Stroger Hospital, a Sheriff's deputy shackled her hand and foot to her bed and unchained her at a doctor's request shortly before she gave birth. She says the deputy put the shackles back on after the baby was born.
Morales is seeking $200,000 in damages.
Sheriff's department spokesman Steve Patterson said the deputy followed department policy and that his actions conformed to state law.
The policy requires all pregnant detainees to be handcuffed to the bed until they are in labor and then, when the baby has been delivered, to be handcuffed again.
The measure was enacted after a woman in 1998 jumped out of the hospital window, ripping her stitches, and bleeding to death, he said.
Morales' attorney Tom Morrissey said the explicitly states that women may not be handcuffed on the way to the hospital or at all during labor.
He said the discrepancy is over the definition of "labor," and that the state interprets it as "right before the baby is born." Morrissey said he plans to ask the judge for class action status so other women can be included as plaintiffs.
"When a woman is in labor, she is in no condition to get up and flee," Morrissey said.
Patterson said neither the department nor the state statute define labor, but he "won't get into a debate" about when the handcuffs should be removed.