Skip to main site content.
New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand outside of their precinct.
New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand outside of their precinct.

Casual cruelty

Woman sues New York City police for shackling her to hospital bed while she was in labor

By WITW Staff on December 7, 2018

A woman is suing the New York City Police Department after officers allegedly forced her to give birth while her wrists were handcuffed and her ankles shackled to a hospital bed — despite a 2015 state law that expressly forbids the use of restraints on women during pregnancy or delivery. According to a lawsuit filed on Thursday, doctors at Montefiore Medical Center warned the officers that restraining the woman was not only illegal but posed a danger to her life. But the officers allegedly insisted she be restrained, claiming that their department’s patrol guide required it and that the guide superseded state law. An hour into labor, the woman’s suffering grew so severe that officers relented and allowed some of the restraints to be removed. The woman finished delivering her newborn with her right hand still shackled to the hospital bed.

Speaking anonymously, the woman said she had been deeply traumatized by the experience — to the point that she hadn’t even spoken about what had happened to her family. In her lawsuit, she is seeking damages for the violation of her civil rights and requested that police officially change their policies so that no other woman would endure a similar experience — in New York at least — ever again.

Despite what police allegedly told doctors at the hospital, the patrol guide permits officers to remove restraints at the request of a doctor if they consulted with a patrol supervisor. According to the complaint, the doctors did speak with a sergeant, but the sergeant told them that the woman needed to be shackled.

“I haven’t made sense of it myself and I’m not ready to explain it to my child,” said the mother in an affidavit.

In a statement, the NYPD did not comment directly on the case, saying only that officials were “examining these allegations very carefully.” Eight months before the alleged incident in which the woman was shackled, police settled a similar lawsuit that claimed a Bronx woman, eight months pregnant, was shackled to a bed at Montefiore for three days over a misdemeanor charge that was later dismissed.

Twenty-six states, New York included, have banned the shackling of women in labor, but in 24 states the practice remains legal. Speaking at the Women in the World Summit in April, Topeka Sam spoke up about the harrowing conditions faced by pregnant women in the prison system and pushed for the passage of “dignity bills” that war bar women from being shackled during labor.

Watch video of that discussion below.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


‘No one is immune from our broken justice system’

Meet the former lawyer and inmate fighting for America’s incarcerated women

Sentenced to prison, mothers bring their babies to live with them behind bars