A little more than three years ago, Megon Riedel found herself shackled and chained in a Jackson County jail van, she says, traveling to the state prison for women in Vandalia, Mo. She was bleeding and sick to her stomach.
She was about to deliver a baby.
The inmate, undergoing a transfer from the Jackson County jail to state custody, says she pleaded for help from the two guards who sat in the front. Her labor had started the day before, and the pain was growing. “I was scared. I was hurting. I didn’t know what was going on,” she recalled.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, Riedel says the guards ignored her pleas. Instead, they drove her to the prison, where — at the end of a 192-mile trip — state authorities recognized her condition and called an ambulance. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she gave birth to a boy, Johnace.
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“I don’t think it should happen to somebody else,” Riedel said.
Riedel’s lawsuit, filed with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, names Jackson County and three jail guards as defendants. The complaint alleges cruel and unusual punishment, a failure to properly train jail guards and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to require additional training for jail personnel.
A spokesman for the Jackson County Department of Corrections said it has no record of any formal complaint from Riedel after the alleged incident but otherwise declined to comment.
The legal action comes as the FBI continues an investigation into security activity at the jail, including the behavior of its guards. It isn’t known if Riedel’s treatment is part of that investigation.
Riedel’s ordeal actually began before the long trip to Vandalia, the lawsuit says. The day before the transfer, it says, the inmate told guards she was having labor contractions and asked for treatment at a local hospital. She had been pregnant for 39 weeks.
The lawsuit says Riedel was twice taken to Truman Medical Center, where doctors determined hers was a “high risk” pregnancy and suggested the jail have a plan in place in case Riedel went into labor.
Instead, the lawsuit says, Riedel was shackled and put in a van for the transfer. “Plaintiff experienced frequent contractions, continued to bleed vaginally, and vomited in the van. Plaintiff remained shackled and chained at all times during the transport,” the lawsuit says.
“This indifference to a person in medical distress is not isolated,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a statement. “We need to decide if we will tolerate this behavior from those who run our jails and prisons. The ACLU is prepared to hold them accountable.”
The guards are not identified by name in the court documents.
Riedel, 28, said she was released from state custody Wednesday but remains on probation. She said she has been reunited with her son, now 3 years old.