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A woman gave birth alone in a Tarrant County Jail cell. A federal lawsuit says it's the jail's fault

The dark wood doors of the Tarrant County Courthouse. There's the county emblem printed on the glass.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
Tarrant County and Sheriff Bill Waybourn are among the defendants in a lawsuit alleging that a wrongful arrest and neglect led to the death of a newborn baby.

The woman was alone when she gave birth in a Tarrant County Jail cell. And just 10 days later, her baby died. That birth and death in 2020 is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that what happened was a direct result of the woman’s wrongful arrest and neglect while in jail.

Her attorneys claim that the jail did not provide the woman, who has developmental disabilities and severe mental health problems, with vital medical care. It also accuses the jail of violating state law by failing to assess the woman’s condition and never notifying the proper authorities about her mental illness.

“What should happen is the city and the defendants should come together and try to make [the woman] whole and fix the issues that are rampant within that county jail,” said Jarrett Adams, one of the attorneys representing the woman in the lawsuit.

Defendants in the case are the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and three individual police and corrections employees.

The lawsuit offers new details in the woman’s case, which was first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2020.

In January 2020, the woman was in a mental health crisis, and her family called the police to have her involuntarily committed at JPS hospital, the lawsuit says.

Instead, she was arrested and brought to the Tarrant County Jail.

The lawsuit gave this account of the woman’s decline over her months in jail:

She became nonverbal and refused meals. A gynecologist confirmed that the woman was “unable to express symptoms and would not recognize it if she were to go into labor.”

When her labor began on May 17, 2020, the woman thought she needed to use the bathroom. The pain didn’t go away, and she banged on her window for help, but no one was there.

The woman delivered her baby alone. When corrections employees entered the cell, they saw blood on her bedding and sent the woman and her baby to local hospitals.

The baby’s brain was severely damaged from lack of oxygen. The baby was declared brain dead, and at just 10 days old, the baby died.

A doctor at Cook Children’s Medical Center, where the baby was being treated, asked for permission to let the woman meet her baby the day before the baby died. That request was denied.

“[The woman] never got a chance to see her daughter, let alone hold her,” attorneys wrote in the suit.

Two years later, the woman still asks when her baby will come back, the lawsuit states.

A month after the birth, the state moved to dismiss the woman’s charges and sent her to inpatient treatment, which is what her family had asked for in the first place.

Problems at the Tarrant County Jail have been documented in local news reports. Two jailers were indicted after they allegedly lied about checking on an inmate who later died in custody. Jailers were also late on three checks for another inmate who died by suicide, the Star-Telegram reported.

KERA sought comment from the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Worth Police Department.

The City of Fort Worth does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said.

The sheriff’s office did not respond before this article was published. But in a KERA interview in 2020, Waybourn, who also is Tarrant County’s chief jail administrator, said jail staff had been near the woman’s cell during the birth.

“There was a nurse and a detention officer within six feet of that woman. She never made a sound. The baby never made it sound,” he said. “She'd been checked on every eight minutes. And then they entered the cell because it was medication time, and they went in there and that's what they discovered.”

Adams, the woman’s attorney, said there is clearly something wrong with the way the jail is run.

“This lawsuit isn’t simply about monetary compensation. This is about changing the way the citizens of Tarrant County are being treated,” he said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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