Pattern of Abuse: MO Prisons Shackling Women in Labor

ACLU Files Second Lawsuit in Six Months Against Another Missouri Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
April 18, 2016 1:45 pm

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For the second time in six months, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit on behalf of a woman that was shackled, chained and transported hundreds of miles while in active labor with a high-risk pregnancy. Today, Tara Rhodes sued Mississippi County and seven Mississippi County Detention Center (MCDC) correctional officers for the cruel and unusual punishment that ultimately caused the death of her baby.

Beginning on Dec. 18, 2014, while imprisoned at MCDC, Ms. Rhodes told several staff members that she was leaking fluids, experiencing intense abdominal pain and believed she was going into early labor. Over the course of five days, Ms. Rhodes’ daily, repeated formal complaints and pleas for medical attention went unheeded. Instead, when she showed a staff member her clothing soaked and full of blood clots, she was accused of lying and instructed to stop securing the bodily fluids from elsewhere. When she could no longer walk because of her condition, she was dragged across the floor on a mat from her sleeping quarters to a holding cell. When Ms. Rhodes pounded on the holding cell door for help, she was threatened with restraint to a chair.

On the morning of Dec. 23, 2014, Ms. Rhodes was shackled at the wrists, ankles and across her abdomen during the five-hour, 243-mile trip to the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri. Upon arrival, she was immediately transferred 30 miles to Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Missouri. Nine hours after her journey began, Ms. Rhodes’ cervix was dilated and her baby’s foot was protruding from the birth canal. The baby did not survive.

Ms. Rhodes’ experience is not isolated. Megon Riedel filed suit on Oct. 15, 2015 against Jackson County and three of its detention center officers after she too was shackled, chained and transported nearly 200 miles while in active labor.

“Leaving a pregnant woman in excruciating pain for days is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This kind of abuse, which reaches far beyond the boundaries of human decency, is exactly what the Constitution was designed to protect against.”

“There is no excuse for any Missourian to be shackled by law enforcement or denied health services while in labor,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The fact that the ACLU has to repeatedly take action against jails and prisons across the state for doing so is proof that this is a serious problem in Missouri. The ACLU remains ready to hold every offending institution accountable.”

To learn more, visit the case docket page.

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