Miriam Mendiola-Martinez alleges she was shackled while in labor in the custody of Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Story highlights

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez was arrested for using another identity to get a job

She says she was shackled while in labor and afterward in Maricopa County custody

She says she was also shackled while recovering from a C-section

CNN  — 

A Mexican woman – a former inmate in Maricopa County, Arizona – claims in a lawsuit that sheriff’s officers mistreated her during and after her pregnancy, including shackling her while she was in labor and after her Caesarean section.

The federal suit filed by Miriam Mendiola-Martinez this week comes days after the U.S. Department of Justice alleged the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, under the leadership of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Latinos.

Mendiola-Martinez’s suit is against the sheriff’s office, Arpaio, the Maricopa Medical Center and unidentified male and female officers, doctors and nurses.

Mendiola-Martinez, a Mexican citizen, alleges in the suit she was arrested October 23, 2009, by Scottsdale, Arizona, police, and was booked into Maricopa County’s Estrella Jail on charges of identity theft. She was held without bond under Arizona law.

According to the police report filed at the time of her arrest, Mendiola-Martinez was accused of using someone else’s name, date of birth and Social Security number to obtain work. She was arrested at her place of employment, a department store, while she was vacuuming the floor.

When arrested, she was six months’ pregnant and had developed gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the suit.

On December 10, 2009, Mendiola-Martinez pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit forgery under a plea agreement. Her sentencing was set for December 24.

While incarcerated, in what her attorney, Joy Bertrand, called “two months of hell,” Mendiola-Martinez says in the suit that she was told by jail staff she would receive a “special” pregnancy diet.

That diet, she claims, consisted of “items such as two slices (of) cheese or ham, two slices of bread, indistinguishable cooked vegetables and occasionally a piece of fruit.” She also said she was given two small cartons of milk a day and a pill that she was told was a vitamin.

On days when she was transported to court, Mendiola-Martinez said, she was given no food during the day. In one instance, she alleges in the suit, an officer taunted her and other inmates with his food, telling them there was no food for them.

On December 20, four days before her sentencing, Mendiola-Martinez began to have contractions, according to the suit. She was shackled at her ankles and taken to the Maricopa Medical Center, where medical personnel determined she was not in labor and returned her to the jail.

By the following day, however, her pain had increased. “Ms. Mendiola-Martinez had been left in the jail visitation room, in extreme pain,” the suit says. Guards ignored her attempts to speak to them in Spanish, so she asked an English-speaking person in the room to tell them she needed help.

She was again taken to the Maricopa Medical Center, where she gave birth to a son via Caesarean section. She was shackled before and after the surgery, according to the suit.

While she was recovering, a male correctional officer “insisted that she be shackled to the hospital bed,” and the shackles on her feet were painful, according to the lawsuit.

Asked about the allegations in 2010, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Brian Lee said in a statement that Mendiola-Martinez “was not shackled during or directly after her medical procedure. After the procedure, she did have a soft restraint attached on one leg to her bed to prevent escape.”

Maricopa County sheriff’s spokesman Justin Griffin referred to the earlier statement when asked about the suit.

Lee said Mendiola-Martinez was treated the way any other inmate would be while receiving treatment “in an unsecured facility. Although she was being held on a Class Three felony, MCSO would have treated other inmates in the same manner.”

Mendiola-Martinez was not initially shackled, thanks to a “guardian angel” guard, Bertrand said, but “she has her C-section, the guards change and this new guard comes in as she’s recovering from this major surgery and insists on shackling her to the bed.”

“It’s incredibly painful, it’s incredibly dangerous because now she can’t move around, she can’t avoid clotting, and he refuses to take the shackle off,” Bertrand said.

Mendiola-Martinez was not allowed to hold or nurse her baby, the suit alleges.

She was discharged on December 23, but was not given a wheelchair to leave the hospital, the suit says. “Wearing only a hospital gown, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was forced to walk through the hospital with her hands and feet shackled,” according to the suit. Meanwhile, she began to bleed, the suit says.

A nurse “scolded” the corrections officer for taking her “so quickly and without Ms. Mendiola receiving her pain medication or discharge paperwork,” so she was again chained and forced to walk back to the nurse’s station, according to the suit.

“Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was in so much pain she could hardly walk,” the suit says. “Shackled at her hands and ankles, with a bleeding surgery wound, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was returned to the Estrella jail.” She spent the nights following her discharge “in pain and crying,” the suit says.

Maricopa County Medical Center spokesman Michael Murphy, asked about shackling inmates in labor, said hospital staff defers to law enforcement, according to the suit.

Hospital spokeswoman Judy Cane declined comment on the matter Wednesday.

“I’d like to think that any woman held in that jail is going to be treated with respect and dignity,” Bertrand said.

Mendiola-Martinez declined to be interviewed, saying she fears retaliation by the sheriff’s office.

International standards say using restraints on pregnant women “is cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and given medical or other factors impeding pregnant or birthing women from attempting escape or becoming violent, the presumption must be that no restraints should be applied,” the suit says. “A woman’s privacy and dignity must be respected during labor and birth.”

International standards also say a pregnant woman in her third trimester should not be restrained while being transported, and efforts should be made “to afford the mother reasonable access to the baby without impeding her movements by restraints,” according to the suit.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose the shackling of women in labor or after delivery, the suit says. The Arizona Department of Corrections, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have all eliminated the practice.

The suit claims officers violated Mendiola-Martinez’s rights, including her right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment.

Hospital staffers’ deferring to law enforcement officers regarding the shackling of women in labor and after delivery also “demonstrates an ongoing policy of deliberate indifference to Ms. Mendiola-Martinez’s serious medical needs,” according to the suit.

It also alleges that a U.S. citizen in a similar situation would be less likely to be shackled.

“Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was subject to a lower standard of medical care – and a higher degree of danger to her and (her) fetus – than similarly-situated women who are United States citizens,” the suit says.

“This disparate treatment is consistent with the findings of the United States Department of Justice regarding the systemic bias towards Latinos demonstrated by Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.”

Arpaio is known as “America’s toughest sheriff” for his stance against illegal immigration. He and his attorneys last week condemned the Justice Department civil rights investigation as politically motivated and a “witch hunt.”

Mendiola-Martinez seeks a jury trial and damages in the suit.

Journalist Valeria Fernandez in Phoenix contributed to this report.