More than 14 years after Imka Pope gave birth alone in a King County Jail cell, a jury in U.S. District Court will hear her claim that jail nurses and corrections officers violated her civil rights in 1997 by dismissing her claims that she was pregnant as the ramblings of a mentally ill woman.

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More than 14 years after Imka Pope gave birth alone in a King County Jail cell, a jury in U.S. District Court this week will hear her claim that jail nurses and corrections officers violated her civil rights by dismissing her claims that she was pregnant as the ramblings of a mentally ill woman who would identity herself only as “Lisa Enigma.”

Pope was booked into the jail in 1997 after police arrested her for sleeping on a bench in a Metro bus stop. She was severely mentally ill at the time, according to a lawsuit she filed in 2007.

Jail health officials, her lawsuit claims, noted she was pregnant but did nothing to either treat her mental illness or address her advanced pregnancy, instead “locking her in a cell and ignoring her for six days.”

Help was called only after Pope, then 27, gave birth on the floor of her cell, and a guard heard the baby crying, according to the lawsuit against the county and several jail employees.

The county’s own jail-practices expert, according to trial briefs filed before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, concluded the staff “probably did this because they believe she’s just mentally ill, she’s just pretending to have a baby.”

The lawsuit alleges that at the time of her arrest, “anyone could tell Ms. Pope was pregnant just by looking at her.”

Pope is seeking unspecified monetary damages in a case that has been long delayed, mostly because her mental condition has been so unstable.

The lawsuit wasn’t filed until 2007 because Pope was either in a hospital or on the streets, unable to comprehend that her rights may have been violated. As a result, her lawyer Chris Carney has said, the statute of limitations in the case was extended.

The county disputes Pope’s claims of medical malpractice and negligence, saying Pope’s severe mental problems made it impossible for the staff to assess her health.

The case went to trial once before, in August. However, Pope was involuntarily committed to the Harborview Medical Center psychiatric ward on the first day of testimony.

The lawsuit alleges that what happened to Pope in 1997 was part of a pattern of unconstitutional behavior by county corrections and jail health officers that was later detailed in a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found “life-threatening deficiencies” in medical care for some inmates. The lawsuit alleges the jail in 1997 routinely discontinued medical screenings for uncooperative inmates and that Pope was exhausted and “profoundly delusional and talking to herself” when she was booked.

Pope’s attorneys allege that one jail worker after another handed Pope off, each giving up on attempts to get information from her. She identified herself as “Lisa Enigma” to some, and babbled and was abusive to others, the lawsuit says.

One jail classification officer, with the task of determining where specific inmates should be housed, noted that “I/M (inmate) appears P/G” — the only reference to Pope’s pregnancy in her jail file. Pope was sent to the psychiatric ward, where she was placed in 23-hour lockdown, the lawsuit says.

For the next several days, the lawsuit says, Pope’s mental condition worsened. During one staff visit, however, Pope reportedly told a female nurse that she was pregnant and worried about her baby. The nurse reportedly told Pope she didn’t believe her and “thought Ms. Pope was trying to get an extra sandwich.”

Pope went into labor on Nov. 21, 1997, and she called for help on an intercom in her cell. The guard who answered said he didn’t believe her, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Pope gave birth “alone, terrified and in terrible pain” on the floor of her cell.

The child was born with a heart defect and suffered neurological damage. However, those claims are not part of the lawsuit. The baby was taken from her.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com