published Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Woman sues Corrections Corporation of America after giving birth while shackled

A woman who was shackled hand and foot by jail guards as she gave birth at Erlanger hospital last year has filed a federal lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and guards for the Silverdale Correctional Facility.

In her lawsuit, Charity Flerl alleges that she had been picked up on a warrant and consigned to Silverdale in June 2013, when she was six months pregnant, because she was $1,000 behind in child support payments.

Flerl suffered from phenylketonuria, a metabolic disorder that made her pregnancy hazardous, the suit states, adding that CCA knew of her condition but never provided a proper diet.

When she went into labor in September 2013, the suit states, two CCA guards shackled her hands, feet and waist before she was taken to Erlanger.

Flerl was never a violent prisoner, the suit states, and at 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds on the eve of giving birth, "At no time did defendants have any reason to believe that Ms. Flerl was a danger to herself or others."

She was shackled to the bed at the hospital and remained shackled by the arm even while giving birth, the suit states. The guards kept her shackled by the arm and leg during her two-day pospartum recovery, the suit states.

Flerl's child was born with microcephalic condition and "significant heart issues," the suit states.

She claims the shackling increased the risk of injury to her and her baby and that she was subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering throughout the three-day ordeal.

Her lawsuit alleges violations of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions' due process protections by deliberate indifference to a serious medical need and by cruel and unusual punishment, as well as breach of contract against CCA for failing to train its guards and violating the standards of care enumerated in its contract with Hamilton County.

Contacted for comment Monday evening, CCA public affairs director Steve Owen said in an email: "While we are unable to speak to the specifics of this case, our dedicated, professional corrections staff is firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care."

Hammond said Flerl is suing the wrong guy. He said Silverdale and the CCA contract are a function of county general government, not the sheriff's office, and that his department wasn't involved.

"I have not clue why we would be named because she wasn't in our facility, we didn't take her to the hospital and we didn't shackle her," Hammond said Monday evening.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor also could not be reached for comment after business hours Monday.

Chattanooga attorney Chris Clem, who filed the lawsuit for Flerl, noted that her case was similar to one in Nashville, where a federal court awarded $200,000 to a nonviolent woman kept shackled during labor, delivery and recovery.

According to an opinion from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in that case, "... the shackling of pregnant detainees while in labor offends contemporary standards of human decency such that the practice violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" -- i.e., it poses a substantial risk of serious harm."

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