The family of a baby who spent all of her brief life in a maximum security cell at the Milwaukee County jail filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the county and conservative Sheriff David Clarke Jr.
“As a result of the defendants’ reckless disregard and deliberate indifference, baby Laliah is not spending her first Christmas, or any other thereafter, with her mother or family, nor will she ever grow to have a family of her own,” according to Friday’s complaint, filed in Milwaukee federal court.
Laliah Swayzer, born healthy on July 14 to her mother Shadé Swayzer, died just a few hours later, while correctional staff ignored or laughed off the small family’s cries and screams for help, the complaint states.
The baby’s death is just one of four preventable deaths in the “dangerously understaffed” facility this year, according to Swayzer and her family.
One inmate was allegedly dropped on his head while seizing, another received no treatment for extreme substance withdrawal, and a third died of dehydration, which has since been ruled a homicide.
Swayzer was placed in the Milwaukee County Justice Facility on July 6 after she refused to leave a motel room, the complaint states.
Hospital staff medically cleared her and confirmed that her 33-week pregnancy was healthy and progressing normally when she was placed in the special needs unit at the jail, Swayzer says.
Two correctional officers, named only as C.O. Love and C.O. Brooks, allegedly transferred Swayzer to the maximum security unit without medical clearance, and a jail doctor delayed a July 13 appointment because Swayzer was not a priority.
At midnight on July 14, Swayzer went into labor in her “cold, dark and unsanitary maximum security cell,” her lawsuit states.
Swayzer screamed for help, but a correctional officer laughed at her and ignored her request, she claims in the complaint.
After four hours of unassisted labor, Swayzer’s baby was born in the jail cell, where she cried profusely and tried to breastfeed, the mother says.
More than an hour after she was born, after several guards had allegedly sneaked through the unit to avoid inmate detection, one finally noticed Laliah in the cell with her mother.
This guard inexplicably waited nine minutes to call a medical emergency, and it was another nine minutes before the Milwaukee Fire Department was called, the lawsuit states.
Rather than transporting mother or child to the nearby hospital’s neonatal care unit, which was just a third of a mile from the jail, MFD and jail staff spent 47 minutes trying to resuscitate Laliah using CPR and a portable medical device on a metal table in a common area of the maximum security unit, according to the complaint.
Laliah was finally declared dead at 6:55 a.m. on July 14, and was later found to be a “well-developed, well-nourished female neonate” of 37 weeks gestation, Swayzer claims.
The baby’s mother was finally transported to the hospital 10 minutes later, according to the complaint.
Swayzer blames her baby’s death on the jail staff’s allegedly inadequate health care.
“The lack of staff at the Justice Facility creates severe problems for the county’s ability to respond timely and appropriately to medical emergencies and needs, which is exactly what contributed to Laliah’s untimely, horrific, and preventable death,” the complaint states.
Swayzer has already brought the sheriff’s department to court for refusing to provide her with records related to her jail time and Laliah’s death, in a lawsuit pending in Milwaukee County Circuit Court before Judge David Hansher. The county has moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
The mother’s lawsuits come at a particularly bad time for Sheriff Clarke, who was recently passed over for a top Department of Homeland Security position in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
Clarke, a frequent Fox News contributor, gun rights advocate and vocal critic of anti-police brutality movements, has claimed in the past through his office that Laliah was stillborn.
Swayzer asserts wrongful death, failure to train, civil rights and negligence claims against the county, the sheriff’s department, individual staff members and the private healthcare company that serves the jail, Armor Correctional Health Services. She seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
A voicemail left Wednesday morning with Milwaukee County corporation counsel, to which questions about the case have been referred, was not immediately returned.
Swayzer, her family and Laliah’s estate are represented by Judge Lang & Katers LLC. A voicemail left with Christopher Katers, the signatory on the complaint, was not immediately returned.
by Molly Willms | Courthouse News Service