OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Six current and former inmates who were pregnant at Santa Rita Jail leveled accusations of abuse against guards in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Oakland,
The suit alleges that Alameda County sheriff’s deputies who work as guards at the jail mistreated them when they were pregnant in custody and, in some cases, coerced them to have abortions.
The accusations against Santa Rita Jail guards allege abusive treatment that led to miscarriages and one incident where an inmate was left to give birth alone in solitary confinement.
The suit also alleges that women inmates are subject to more restrictions and harsher treatment than male prisoners, including being held in holding cells for longer periods of time, being denied equal access to jobs outside the cell, limitations on classes and education, and subjected to more frequent strip searches and body cavity searches.
Christina Zepeda is one of six women suing the sheriff’s department.
She said she miscarried in August during her first week of lock up at Santa Rita.
“I had no complications prior to this,” said Zepeda. “But then in there, from being woken up early in the morning to go to court and being in a holding tank with 8 to 12 other women, sleeping on the floor…”
She blames the rough transport to the jail, the lack of rest because she was woken up often times 3 or 4 in the morning and the lack of nutritious food.
“Even after everything that happened, I asked to speak to someone, for counseling and everything? It even took two months for them to see me for that,” explained Zepeda.
Yolanda Huang is one of the attorneys representing the group of women in the lawsuit. She said that the guards turned a deaf ear to these female inmates who had special needs.
“If you are complaining of problems and you’re not feeling well, the general response is, ‘You’re just doing drugs. We’re going to put you in solitary confinement,'” said Huang.
One part of the lawsuit reads, “The woman began to scream, and yell. She was banging on her metal door. What the guards did instead of providing her with help or trying to see what was wrong, instead closed the window to her door.”
Alameda County Sheriff’s Department officials dismissed the allegations.
“We take these allegations very seriously. They’re hurtful and untrue,” said sheriff’s department spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly.
The sheriff’s department says they don’t encourage inmates to have abortions.
“The person that did give birth in our cell initially went out to the hospital, was misdiagnosed with having Braxton Hicks [contractions], then came back to the jail,” said Kelly. “While transitioning back to jail, went into labor and gave birth.”
When asked how it was possible that one of the inmates gave birth alone in a cell, King replied, “It happens every day in the world. People give birth in cars on their way to hospitals. So in this particular case, without getting into the lawsuit that we don’t have, we have to look at it on a case by case basis. But every day these incidents happen in the world.”
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department said they plan to fight the lawsuit. Currently, officials said that out of 200 female inmates at Santa Rita Jail, five are pregnant.