An Indiana woman who gave birth alone inside a Franklin County Regional Jail cell has cleared an unprecedented hurdle in her federal lawsuit against jail staff, according to court records.
The 19-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove was issued this week in U.S. District Court in Frankfort. In it, Van Tatenhoven ruled that 30-year-old Kelsey Love’s claim of “deliberate indifference” to her pregnancy should continue through the courts despite the defense’s argument that FCRJ staff members were acting within their official capacity at the time she gave birth.
“A pretrial detainee’s right to medical treatment is clearly established, both generally and specifically as it relates to Love’s condition: childbirth,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “Every reasonable officer knows he is under an obligation to obtain medical help for prisoners and pretrial detainees experiencing serious medical conditions. Accordingly the individual Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.”
Tatenhoven also wrote that it was “a first time” he had to apply a U.S. Supreme Court decision from a Fourth Amendment – or excessive force – case in the context of an Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments – cruel and unusual punishment and due process, respectively – case.
Love, of New Albany, Indiana, filed the federal lawsuit in May against Franklin County and several FCRJ officials, including Jailer Rick Rogers, stemming from her time in jail. She was arrested in May 2017 for driving a car on Mother’s Day in Frankfort that had been reported stolen by her mother. Despite being eight months pregnant, Love showed signs of being intoxicated and allegedly admitted to officers that she’d used methamphetamine and opioids within the last few hours, court records state.
Love was booked into the jail that day and, because of her pregnancy, staff was under orders to observe her every 10 minutes.
“The Inmate Observation Record Love filed with Love’s complaint, if believed, indicates (jail staff) checked on her semi-regularly throughout May 15, 2017 and into the morning of May 16, 2017, though not every ten minutes, as instructed,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “Love went into labor sometime during May 15, 2017. Somehow, despite frequent looking-ins, Love was allowed to give birth, unassisted and without medical care, in her jail cell.”
When officers entered Love’s cell at about 8 a.m. May, 16, 2017, Love’s blood covered the floor from where she’d completed labor and delivered a child. Only then was she taken to the hospital, court records state.
Love later argued that deliberate indifference on the jail staff’s part led to her not receiving proper medical care to give birth while in custody.
Jail officials sought to have the case dismissed, claiming that they have “qualified immunity,” or a shield from being sued because they were acting in their official capacity, and that Love failed to state a legitimate claim.
However, the judge sided with Love.
She only recently pleaded guilty to reduced charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, and was sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised release probation.
Love has demanded a jury trial in the lawsuit and claims at least $75,000 in damages, the minimum amount to file a claim in federal court. A trial has not been scheduled.