Nicole Guerrero is one of the more than 200,000 women currently incarcerated due to minor drug offenses and property crimes. Like many of these women, Guerrero was pregnant when she was sent to jail. Delivering a baby in prison is traumatic and can include being handcuffed and shackled during labor and delivery.
Guerrero’s experience was downright horrific.
On June 2, 2012, Nicole Guerrero was arrested for drug possession by police in Wichita Falls, Texas. Nine days later, she was seen by an OB/GYN and informed that she was 34 weeks pregnant. After a checkup that consisted of measuring her stomach and listening to the baby’s heartbeat, she was told the baby was fine, given iron pills and a prescription to treat a vaginal infection.
What happened over twelve hours the following week has resulted in a lawsuit against Wichita County, the sheriff, a private prison healthcare firm, and a nurse with an expired license.
At 6:30 p.m. on June 11, 2012, Guerrero complained of lower back pain, cramps, and vaginal discharge which included blood. She was taken to the nurse’s station where the nurse checked the baby’s heartbeat, said everything was fine and gave Guerrero the prescribed medication. Guerrero was sent back to her cell. For the next nine hours, she suffered severe lower back pain and contractions. Screaming in agony, she requested help at 11:00 p.m. via the medical alert button. Her cries for help would be ignored for another four-and-a-half hours.
She was finally taken to the nurse’s station again at 3:30 am. She showed them the sanitary napkins that were now filled with blood. Nurse LaDonna Anderson told her it was just the medication “getting the infection out.” Guerrero was told she was not in labor, placed in “the cage,” a solitary cell that was dirty and had nothing but a mat, and told to take deep breaths. Detention officers continued to ignore her obvious labor, laughing at her distress.
At about 5:00 a.m., Guerrero’s water broke. As Nurse Anderson walked by on her way to check on the male inmates, Guerrero pleaded with her to help. Anderson said she would be right back. Guerrero was beginning to feel intense pressure. She removed her clothing and felt the baby’s head crowning. At that moment, a detention officer walked by and saw the baby’s head protruding out. Guerrero pushed immediately and delivered her daughter on the mat.
The detention officer held the baby, who was purple with the umbilical cord tied around her neck. At that moment, Nurse Anderson returned, removed the still attached umbilical cord from around the baby’s neck, and patted the unresponsive baby’s back for the next 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. At no time did Anderson, whose nursing license had expired six month earlier, check the baby or administer any CPR.
When the EMTs arrived, they cut the umbilical cord and tried to revive the baby, and then took her to the hospital. Guerrero remained behind in the cell where she delivered the placenta. She was then transported to the same hospital.
Her daughter Myrah Arianna Guerrero was pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m.
Guerrero’s attorney detailed this harrowing account in a lawsuit filed in federal court last week. She is suing the county and the sheriff for unconstitutional confinement, a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. She is also bringing a civil action against the private contractor, Correctional Healthcare Management, as well as the nurse, LaDonna Anderson, for breach of duty of care and medical malpractice. She also claims severe and likely permanent physical and psychological damage.
Guerrero is currently in jail serving sentences for drug charges and theft. She is due to be released in July, though no release date has been set.