Woman Shackled in Ambulance Is Awarded 200K

A federal jury on Thursday awarded $200,000 in damages to a Nashville woman who was shackled by Davidson County Sheriff’s deputies during labor.

The jury deliberated for about an hour before deciding the amount to give to Juana Villegas, who was arrested in July 2008 on a minor traffic violation for which charges were later dropped.

Villegas testified that her wrists and ankles were bound while she was in labor during an ambulance ride from the jail to the hospital. She said she did not know that a deputy who could unlock the shackles was riding in the front of the vehicle.

“I was afraid for my son, because if he were to be born in the ambulance, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to open my legs so he could come,” she said.

Villegas, who was in the country illegally, was detained under a sheriff’s office immigration program while she was nine months pregnant.

Her lawyers, citing more than $300,000 in future medical needs plus pain and suffering, had asked for $1.2million.

City lawyers, who represented the sheriff’s office, argued that Villegas’ anguish was not from the shackling but because she was under the threat of deportation, but the judge said jurors could not know that she was in the country illegally while deciding the issue of whether to compensate her.

U.S. District Judge William Haynes in April granted summary judgment for Villegas without a trial, ruling that the sheriff’s office violated her constitutional rights by showing indifference to her medical needs.

Villegas, 35, was unshackled shortly before delivery, and her baby boy was born without complications, but she was shackled again shortly afterward. One leg was attached to the bed when she was lying down. Her legs were shackled together when she got up to use the bathroom. And deputies refused to allow her to use a breast pump after giving birth, causing her pain and illness.

This week’s jury trial was solely to decide what damages Villegas was due. Sheriff Daron Hall said after the verdict that the government will appeal. “We clearly want to have our case heard. We haven’t been able to do that,” he said.

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