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Pregnant Inmate Who Was Shackled in County Jail Loses Lawsuit Against Sheriff Arpaio

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez in court.
Miriam Mendiola-Martinez in court.
Image: Court video still via cnn.com

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez, an undocumented immigrant who was shackled during her pregnancy after an arrest, has lost her lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell has ruled that Mendiola-Martinez was indeed restrained at times before and just after giving birth in 2009 but that her treatment in jail did not result in a violation of rights.

See also: -MCSO Shackling Pregnant Moms, and Linda Ronstadt Plans to March Against Arpaio

The case drew national headlines in 2009 and seemed to be another example of Arpaio's office's discriminating against Hispanics -- an offense for which he later was found responsible both in a different federal lawsuit and by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mendiola-Martinez was arrested by Scottsdale police for document fraud. Six years earlier, she'd bought bogus identification on the black market to obtain her job at Dillard's. At the time of her arrest, she already had two kids who were born in the United States.

After the bust, the diminutive woman, who was six months pregnant, was taken to the county's Estrella Jail to await trial. She later complained that she'd been shackled and handcuffed while being transported between the jail and the Maricopa Integrated Health Services hospital with labor pains over two days in December.

After her second arrival to the hospital, on December 21, 2009, doctors performed a C-section and a son, Angel, was born. The woman wasn't restrained during the operation, but a "tether" was affixed to her leg after the surgery. A deputy loosened the leg restraint at one point after she complained it was too tight.

She was allowed two visits with the newborn before her sister-in-law took him home from the jail.

"She contends that two days after delivering her child, while 'still bleeding from her delivery,' she was 'bound at her hands and ankles' and 'forced to walk through the hospital,' where she was then 'chained to other prisoners for 'transport back to jail,'" Campbell wrote in his ruling. But she didn't allege that she or her baby were harmed by the alleged treatment.

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez
Miriam Mendiola-Martinez
Image: Stephen Lemons

Mendiola-Martinez sued the Sheriff's Office and other county agencies for "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs," cruel and unusual punishment, and other alleged violations.

Her suit notes that the "Arizona Department of Corrections and the United States Bureau of Prisons had ended the practice of restraining pregnant inmates years earlier."

The judge wrote that the rules of the state and federal agencies don't apply, legally, to the county. And the county, he mentioned, argued that "restraining pregnant inmates during transport remained routine practice in almost every prison and jail in the United States."

With no constitutional violation, the case lacks a "genuine issue of material fact," Campbell wrote.

The suit likened the case to two past incidents in other states involving shackled, pregnant inmates, Campbell said the women in those cases "were restrained to a greater extent" than Mendiola-Martinez, who had only a "tether restraint" attached to a leg after Angel was born.

The judge also rejected her claim that she'd suffered from an inadequate diet in prison. In fact, Campbell found, she'd been given a "regular diet, supplemented with additional milk and a prenatal vitamin."

Further, he found that an inmate's rumbling stomach isn't such a big deal: "That she was hungry while in jail does not establish deliberate indifference on the part of the County Defendants."

Of course, Mendiola-Martinez probably wouldn't have been held in jail before her trial if not for the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, which was approved by voters in 2006. As she maintains in her lawsuit, if that for that law, she would have been able to post bond for the relatively minor offense of securing her employment with bogus documents. Yet, as Campbell found, neither the county nor Sheriff Arpaio were responsible for that law. (The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court, we should mention, recently signaled that it would review the constitutionality of the 2006 law.)

Campbell's order granted summary judgment to the Maricopa County Special Health Care District and other county defendants, and terminated the lawsuit.

Though Mendiola-Martinez lost her lawsuit, she still lives and works in the United States. New Times requested a statement about her status from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau. Here's what the agency said in reply:

"Ms. Mendiola-Martinez, who was convicted in 2009 for felony solicitation to commit forgery, is not in ICE custody. Her case is pending before the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review."

"ICE is focused on smart and effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminal aliens, recent border crossers and immigration fugitives who have failed to comply with final orders of removal issued by the nation's immigration courts. ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion on a base-by-case basis, considering the totality of the circumstances in an individual case. Please refer to ICE Director John Morton's memorandum on the agency's website for more specificity on the factors ICE weighs in making such determinations."

UPDATE: 1:30pm -- Joy Bertrand, one of Mendiola-Martinez's lawyers, says Campbell's decision will be appealed.

"She's very disappointed with the judge's ruling, but it's not the end of the world," Bertrand says of her client. The "barbaric" practice of shackling pregnant and postpartum inmates needs to be banned, she says, and she hopes the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court will agree when it gets the case.

Bertrand notes that Mendiola-Martinez spent about three months in jail and was sentenced to time served after conviction. These days, the mother of three is working in a different job with temporary permission from immigration authorities.

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