New York City will pay $750,000 to woman who was shackled during labor

(FOX 5 NY illustration)

A woman who accused the New York Police Department of keeping her shackled for hours while she was in active labor has settled her lawsuit against New York City for $750,000, her lawyers said.

Police arrested the woman, who filed the lawsuit anonymously, for a minor charge in 2018. At the time, she was more than 40 weeks pregnant, the lawsuit said. She said cops handcuffed and shackled her while she was in labor and after she gave birth, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn by The Legal Aid Society and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP. 

In a news release announcing the settlement, Anne Oredeko, supervising attorney of the racial justice unit at The Legal Aid Society, called shackling pregnant people a "dehumanizing and pointless practice that has no place in New York City."

"All New Yorkers should be appalled that the NYPD continues to fail people giving birth at one of the most important and vulnerable moments in their lives," Oredeko said, "and I am outraged at how this practice consistently targets out Black and Latinx women and people who give birth for treatment no one deserves."

Katherine Rosenfeld, a partner at Emery Celli, said the NYPD's policies for shackling pregnant people "are decades behind mainstream law enforcement standards and an embarrassment to the City."

The lawsuit claimed that police officers drove the woman, identified as Jane Doe, to various holding cells and then to Kings County Hospital after arresting her. She was handcuffed in the ambulance en route to the hospital even though she was in active labor and in a great deal of pain, according to the lawsuit.

After giving birth, the woman struggled to feed her newborn with one arm cuffed to the hospital bed, the lawsuit said.

"The first breath that this baby had on this earth was one born out of violence. That was violence, what the NYPD did to her," Oredeko said. "While we know that this settlement will not completely right the injustice that our client suffered, we hope that it will provide some sense of closure, allowing her and her son to move on with their lives."

Ultimately, a court dismissed all the charges against the woman, her lawyers said.

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A reporter on Thursday asked Mayor Bill de Blasio about the $750,000 settlement, which a Law Department spokesperson confirmed this week.

"Obviously, I think that that was inhumane, and we don't want to see that ever happen again," de Blasio said during a virtual news briefing.

In 2020, the NYPD revised its patrol guide to limit the circumstances in which police officers should apply restraints to pregnant women prior to arraignment. But the Legal Aid lawyers said the revised policies are still "vague and inadequate" and won't prevent the use of the "barbaric practice."

"We hope to never see these abhorrent abuses committed by the NYPD again," Oredeko said, "but sadly the NYPD has failed to change their policies to adequately ensure that a violation like this will never happen again." 

The revised patrol guide allows a supervising officer to determine if a less restrictive method of restraint is appropriate based on factors including whether a detainee is in labor.

"Jane Doe is a fierce champion for justice, and we urge the City Council to take up her efforts, change the local laws on shackling pregnant people," Rosenfeld said, "and force the NYPD to finally ban handcuffing women who are about to give birth or who have just brought a child into the world."

With The Associated Press