Arizona Sheriff Arpaio Mistreats Pregnant Mexican Foreign National Inmate

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez, a foreign national of Mexico, filed a lawsuit in Arizona last week against Maricopa County Sheriff, Joseph M. Arpaio alleging that she was mistreated while she was pregnant as an inmate in the Sheriff’s jail. She was six months pregnant when she was arrested in 2009 on charges of identity theft. The suit states that her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the MCSO’s infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs, and disparate treatment. The lawsuit alleges that MCSO and Maricopa Medical Center’s unconstitutional policies, practices, acts and omissions, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez suffered immediate and irreparable injury, including physical, psychological and emotional injury and risk of death.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was undernourished at the jail due to what jail staff called a “special” pregnancy diet. These pregnancy meals consisted of items such as two slices of bread, two slices of cheese or ham, undistinguishable cooked vegetables, and an occasional piece of fruit. She was also given two small cartons of milk per day. This hardly seems to be enough food for a pregnant woman eating for two.

She was taken to the Maricopa Medical Center by MCSO officers when she began to go into labor. Ms. Mendiola-Martinez gave birth to her son via Cesarean section, and she was not allowed to nurse or even hold her son after he was delivered. Officers put shackles on her feet before and after the surgery, and she was shacked to the hospital bed. Wearing only a hospital gown, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was forced to walk through the hospital, with her hands and feet shackled. She began to bleed and could do nothing about it. She was not provided with a breast pump to safely and hygienically remove the breast milk she produced while she was separated from her infant son.

When she was discharged from the hospital, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was not given a wheelchair to assist her, even though she was in great pain and could hardly walk. A deputy took her so quickly from the hospital that she did not receive her pain medication and discharge paperwork. A deputy then chained Ms. Mendiola-Martinez again and forced her to walk back to the nurse’s station. Then, while shackled at her hands and ankles, with a bleeding surgery wound, Ms. Mendiola-Martinez was returned to the Estrella Jail.

About September 2008, the Maricopa County jails lost their accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. On October 22, 2008, the Honorable Neil V. Wake found that the food given to inmates in the Maricopa County Jails constituted “current and ongoing violation of pretrial detainees’ federal right to adequate nutrition.”

On December 15, 2011, the United States Department of Justice issued the findings of the investigation it began in June 2008 in a letter addressed to Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery. In that, letter, the Justice Department stated: “MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against its limited English proficient (“LEP”) Latino inmates. Specifically, we find that MCSO, through the actions of its deputies, detention officers, supervisory staff, and command staff, routinely punishes Latino LEP inmates for failing to understand commands given in English and denies them critical services provided to the other inmates, all in violation of Title VI and its implementing regulations.” The Department of Justice also noted: “MCSO fosters and perpetuates discriminatory police and jail practices by failing to operate in accordance with basic policing and correctional practices and by failing to develop and implement policing and correctional safeguards against discrimination in such areas as training, supervision, and accountability systems.”