Judge ends pregnant inmate’s suit over restraints

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PHOENIX (AP) - A judge has thrown out a lawsuit by a former jail inmate in metro Phoenix who claimed her constitutional rights were violated when officers restrained her before and after she gave birth to her son at a hospital.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled Wednesday that Miriam Mendiola-Martinez failed to demonstrate a clear constitutional-rights violation and explained that there was no law at the time that would have put the county on notice that restraining a pregnant inmate was unconstitutional.

Mendiola-Martinez filed the lawsuit against Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a county health care district that operates a hospital where inmates are taken for medical treatment. She alleged that they showed deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs by restraining her during her transport to and from the hospital.

Arpaio said in a brief statement provided by one of his aides that he always believed the restraint policy in his jails was fair and proper. “I intend to continue using appropriate restraints for the safety of my staff, hospital staff and inmates,” the sheriff said.

Mendiola-Martinez was arrested by Scottsdale police 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.

Her civil attorney, Joy Bertrand, said she plans to appeal Campbell’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“You can treat a decision like this as a setback or an opportunity,” Bertrand said. “Here, we see it as an opportunity.”

Michael Murphy, a spokesman for the county health care district, declined to comment. County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick had no immediate comment Thursday afternoon on the decision.

Campbell said Mendiola-Martinez wasn’t restrained while she was in labor at the hospital or while she was delivering her child. But after giving birth, she was brought to a recovery room and a leg restraint was put on her ankle. The ruling said the plastic cuff that went around her ankle and attached to a chain was loosened by a member of Arpaio’s office on one occasion in response to Mendiola-Martinez’s complaint that it was too tight.

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.

Mendiola-Martinez’s attorney said federal and Arizona prisons had stopped restraining pregnant inmates years earlier, but the judge said the county isn’t bound by these policies. Campbell said he couldn’t say it was unreasonable to place restraints on Mendiola-Martinez during her transport and recovery.

She complained that she was hungry and worried that her unborn baby would die as a result of an inadequate jail diet, though county officials say she was given the standard diet, plus 32 more ounces of milk and a prenatal vitamin. She also said she wasn’t provided with food or water for “long periods of time” when she was taken to court by Arpaio’s officers.

She alleged that on one occasion, another inmate asked a guard to give food to Mendiola-Martinez and the guard said he had no food - and then walked by with his own lunch sack and taunted the inmates by shaking his meal at them. Arpaio’s office denied this allegation.

The judge wrote that Mendiola-Martinez’s statements alone don’t show a constitutional violation and that there was no indication as to what was meant by “long periods of time.” Campbell also pointed out that Mendiola-Martinez doesn’t contend that she wasn’t fed at all on the date at which the officer allegedly taunted prisoners.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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