“Please don’t let me have my baby in jail,” a Michigan mother allegedly begged medical staffers minutes before she gave birth to her son on the floor of a dirty jail cell in 2016.
Jessica Preston, 33, filed a federal lawsuit this month against Macomb County, local officials, and medical staff, accusing them of violating her civil rights through “deliberately indifferent actions and inactions” that led to “pain, suffering, and mental anguish” during the final days of her high-risk pregnancy.
The mother-of-two “suffered and continues to suffer nightmares and emotional agony reliving the horrifying jail birth,” the lawsuit states.
Police officers in Warren, Michigan, arrested Preston in March 2016, when she was eight-months pregnant, for driving with a suspended license, according to the Detroit Free Press. She was then taken to the Macomb County Jail as she awaited sentencing.
Preston alleges that authorities there dismissed her increasingly frequent contractions, saying they were “not impressed,” and left her unmonitored in her jail cell, according to the lawsuit, which lists Macomb County, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, correctional officer Jeffrey Rattray, Correct Care Solutions, and CCS’s medical staff as defendants.
Preston contends that a nurse assured her “we will not allow your baby to be born in jail”—and yet, five days after she was put behind bars for her first offense, she gave birth to a baby boy who weighed less than 5 pounds, the lawsuit states.
CCS medical staff screened Preston, who was scheduled for a C-section on April 26, upon her arrival at the jail on March 15. That’s when they discovered she was a regular heroin user and had used the drug a day before she was arrested, according to the lawsuit. They deemed her pregnancy to be high-risk, the complaint states.
Preston experienced contractions almost daily in the jail—but nurses and officer Rattray allegedly claimed she was just faking her pain. Rattray even told Preston to “knock her shit off or they wouldn’t believe her if something really happened,” according to the lawsuit.
On March 20, 2016, Preston used a buzzer in her jail cell to seek help for her frequent contractions, and Rattray escorted her to the medical unit, where authorities evaluated her outside of the actual medical room, the complaint states. She was then sent back to her cell.
Hours later, Preston begged to be sent to the hospital: Her pain level had shot up to a 10, and she was bleeding, the lawsuit says. She even showed Rattray the bloody tissue she used as a pad for proof of her imminent labor, according to the complaint.
“Pack up all of your shit because you’re going to be housed in medical,” Rattray allegedly told Preston.
When Preston arrived in the jail’s medical unit, she laid down on a cot in an “unsanitary” cell and was left alone for 20 minutes, the complaint alleges. The expectant mother covered her body with a blanket and “feared for her life and her unborn baby’s life,” according to the lawsuit.
By the time her request for hospitalization was approved, it was too late.
“Oh my God,” a nurse can be heard saying in video footage of the birth as the baby’s head crowned, the lawsuit says. An ambulance showed up five minutes after Preston’s baby was “born on the cell floor,” the court documents say.
The pregnancy was “beyond all bounds of decency,” Preston alleges in the lawsuit.
CCS, the health care provider responsible for the medical team at Macomb County Jail, has a history of being sued for prison fatalities. The Tennessee-based contractor has been sued over 140 times for at least half a dozen deaths.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, the family of a man who died from an allegedly “treatable case of pneumonia” in an Arkansas jail in 2016 sued CCS in November. The claim was dismissed in April, according to court records.
In 2016, a pregnant woman died from cardiac arrest and a lack of oxygen to the brain in a North Carolina jail that had a contract with CCS. A lawsuit filed by her family was settled last year.
John Schapka, the attorney for Macomb County, Wickersham, and Rattray, dismissed the allegations against his clients as “frivolous.”
“The birth of her child was attended to by no less than five trained and properly credential medical care professionals,” he said in a statement emailed to The Daily Beast. “Both mother and child were transported to a local hospital within minutes of the birth, and neither suffered any injury or trauma as the result of where the child was delivered.”
Preston’s attorney declined to comment in time for this article’s publication and CCS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.