Court revives lawsuit over restraining pregnant inmate
PHOENIX – An appeals court has resurrected a lawsuit by former jail inmate in metro Phoenix who says her rights were violated in 2009 when officers restrained her before and after she gave birth to her son at a hospital.
The ruling Monday by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revives Miriam Mendiola-Martinez's lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio after a lower-court judge threw it out in January 2014.
The appeals court ruled that a reasonable jury could conclude that Arpaio's office exposed Mendiola-Martinez to harm by restraining her and that officers were deliberately indifferent to the risk. It will be up to a jury to decide whether the risk was justified.
The panel also said Mendiola-Martinez was unlikely to flee or fight after she received a cesarean section and that an armed officer was near her while she was at the hospital. "Even if Mendiola-Martinez was contemplating an escape, the armed officer outside of her hospital door may have negated the need for any restraint," the panel wrote.
A medical expert for Mendiola-Martinez said restraints at any point during pregnancies or during postpartum recovery pose risks of tripping for women and could cause injuries as they move their bodies around to ease the pain of contractions.
Mendiola-Martinez was arrested in October 2009 on a felony identification-theft charge. She is a citizen of Mexico who wasn't authorized to be in the United States and was accused of working under another person's name. Eventually, she pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit forgery, was given credit for 62 days that she had already served in jail and was put on probation.
Messages left for Arpaio's office and Joy Bertrand, Mendiola-Martinez's attorney, weren't immediately returned Monday afternoon.
A day before giving birth, Mendiola-Martinez was handcuffed in an ambulance as she was brought to a medical center after she started experiencing contractions.
She returned to jail later that day and was brought to the hospital again the next day. Mendiola-Martinez said she wasn't restrained on the second trip to the hospital, but an officer said the inmate was cuffed for part of the ride.
Mendiola-Martinez wasn't restrained during her C-section. But after giving birth, she was brought to a recovery room and had to wear a leg restraint with a chain attached to it.
She also contends that two days after giving birth, she was bound at her hands and ankles and forced to walk through the hospital where she was chained to other prisoners for transport back to jail.
Arpaio's office has a policy of requiring officers to restrain all inmates during transportation outside of jail, but it provided an exception for medical procedures in cases where it's warranted.
Four days before Mendiola-Martinez gave birth, the sheriff's office revised its policy clarifying that its practice will be to remove restraints from pregnant inmates who are in active labor. The appeals court said it appears the revision didn't apply to Mendiola-Martinez.
The Arizona Legislature passed a law in 2012 that says jail officers can't use restraints on inmates who are in labor or going through postpartum recovery, unless the medical staff requests them or officers determine that the prisoner presents a problem.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.