MILWAUKEE — A former inmate at the Milwaukee County Jail says a corrections officer laughed off her request for medical help as she went into labor, contributing to her newborn's death in a jail cell in July.
A lawyer for Shadé Swayzer has filed a notice of claim against the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, alleging that jail staff are responsible for the death of Swayzer's child. The 30-year-old woman, who was almost nine months pregnant, is seeking $8.5 million in damages.
Swayzer's lawyer, Jason Jankowski, wrote in the notice of claim that Swayzer told a corrections officer her water broke and she was going into labor, but the officer laughed and ignored her. Swayzer said she told the officer that she was going into labor around midnight, gave birth at about 4 a.m., and finally received attention from officers at 6 a.m. Her child was pronounced dead later that day, although it's unclear at what time.
In a statement issued days after the baby's death, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said Swayzer never told jail staff she was going into labor. The company responsible for medical care at the jail said previously that Swayzer's child was stillborn. However, Swayzer says her child was "born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed."
An autopsy has been conducted on Swayzer's child, but the results have not been released.
Sheriff's officials have not released any additional information about the death. A spokeswoman for Sheriff David Clarke, who oversees the jail, said the office would have no further comment.
Jankowski said he and Swayzer also declined to comment.
Swayzer's three-page notice of claim does not contain information about the baby's cause of death or the name of the officer Swayzer says ignored her. It also doesn't state whether Swayzer made any other attempts to alert medical personnel. Jankowski wrote that he has submitted "repeated open records requests" for information, but the Sheriff's Office hasn't responded to them.
Swayzer was being held in the special needs section of the jail. Jankowski wrote that she suffers from a severe mental illness, though he did not specify a diagnosis. Swayzer has been arrested several times in recent years on charges including burglary, battery and resisting arrest. She was in jail on a probation violation and has since been released.
Four people have died at the Milwaukee County Jail since April.
In April, a 38-year-old inmate, Terrill Thomas, died of profound dehydration while in the segregation unit of the jail. The medical examiner's office determined the manner of death was "homicide," meaning death at the hands of another person.
State and federal prosecutors are reviewing Thomas' death, which is being investigated by the Milwaukee Police Department as a criminal matter, according to sources familiar with the case. No determination has been made if the case will be taken by the Milwaukee district attorney's office or the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee, said the sources, who declined to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.
Following the newborn's July death, a 38-year-old female inmate died in August and a 29-year-old male inmate died in late October. No information has been released about the causes of death or circumstances surrounding those two cases.
Clarke's department is reviewing the three subsequent deaths.
Contributing: John Diedrich, the Journal Sentinel