A federal court jury this afternoon awarded nearly $1 million to a severely mentally ill woman who gave birth alone on the floor of a King County Jail cell 14 years ago.
Jurors in U.S. District Court in Seattle deliberated for about three days before finding that the civil rights of Imka Pope were violated while she was being held in the jail.
She was awarded $850,000 for her pain and suffering and $125,000 in punitive damages.
In her lawsuit, Pope claimed that her constitutional right to receive medical care while in jail was violated when jail officials failed to treat her mental illness or address her advanced pregnancy. Pope, then 27, gave birth on Nov. 21, 1997, after she labored “alone, terrified and in terrible pain,” the lawsuit alleged.
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Help came only after a guard heard the baby crying, according to the lawsuit against the county and several jail employees.
The lawsuit, filed in 2007, claimed that nurses and corrections officers at the facility ignored her pregnancy and dismissed her claims of being in labor as the ramblings of a mentally ill woman.
The county’s own jail-practices expert concluded that the staff “probably did this because they believe she’s just mentally ill, she’s just pretending to have a baby,” according to trial briefs filed in the case.
The county disputed Pope’s claims of medical malpractice and negligence, saying Pope’s severe mental problems made it impossible for the staff to assess her health. In addition, they say Pope was uncooperative when questioned, would not disclose her real name and did not reveal that she was pregnant.
Pope was booked into the jail on Nov. 15, 1997, after police arrested her for sleeping on a bench at a Metro bus stop.
Pope was not physically examined or given a pregnancy test, her lawsuit alleged. Instead, she was sent to the psychiatric ward, where she was placed in 23-hour lockdown.
Attorneys for the county and the jail said in their trial briefs that Pope had originally given her name as “Lisa Enigma” and had intentionally hidden her pregnancy from jail officials because she believed she would be released before giving birth and also because she did not want her jailers to know she’d recently been in the hospital.
In addition, county attorneys said, Pope denied having health problems, insisted she was fine and told jail officials specifically and repeatedly to “go away” or to leave her alone. Defense attorneys also said Pope did not claim to have suffered any additional injury, or health problems, as a result of the unattended birth.
The child was born in the cell suffered a heart defect and neurological damage.