Jail for Getting Pregnant + Dying in Police Custody = Major Human Rights Violation

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Amy Gillespie stole shampoo and steak from a grocery store.  She subsequently was arrested for prostitution.  She was placed on probation but then jailed for getting pregnant, a violation of the terms of the probation.  One guard allegedly told Ms. Gillespie, “Stick it out,” when she asked for medical help.  She later died from pneumonia while still in jail. (Source here.)

Earlier this month, Ms. Gillespie’s mother sued the county, a jail warden (in his personal capacity), the Allegheny Correctional Health Services, Inc., and the President of that company (in his personal capacity), as well as John and Jane Does 1-10 who are corrections officers at the jail or members of the county jail’s medical staff.   A copy of the Complaint is here (Pacer registration required; sorry).  Salient paragraphs from the Complaint include:

20.  Upon information and belief, Gillespie knew for several weeks prior to her admission to the Allegheny County Jail Infirmary on December 29, 2009 that something was wrong relative to her health, and had attempted to communicate this to Defendant Jane Doe Number 6, as well as several other Corrections Officers. Gillespie also communicated to others her fear that she and/or her baby were going to die as a result of the Defendants [sic] failure to treat her symptoms.

21.  For several weeks prior to entering the Allegheny County Jail Infirmary on December 29, 2009, Gillespie complained, repeatedly, about being unable to breathe and about having discharge from her lungs.

24.  One of the Defendant Medical Staff listed Gillespie’s condition as a possible viral influenza. Additionally, none of the Medical Staff recognized that Gillespie’s condition presented a classic case of Pneumonia. Upon information and belief, no effort was made by Medical Staff to obtain a sputum culture, or take x-rays to further diagnose Gillespie’s condition.

Ms. Gillespie was later taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where, according to the Complaint:

32.  Cultures were taken by the UPMC medical staff which determined that Gillespie had no virus or immune system failure which might have contributed to such a rapid decline in Gillespie’s health. Instead, these cultures reflected that Gillespie suffered from bacterial Pneumonia, a condition that is easily treated by modern medicine if diagnosed in a timely fashion.

33.  The Pneumonia, having compromised her lungs to such an extent that it lowered her oxygen saturation dramatically, UPMC medical staff had to first put Gillespie, who was claustrophobic, in an oxygen mask. Later that day, Gillespie had to be intubated because she could no longer breathe on her own.

34.  UPMC physicians were unable to control Gillespie’s Pneumonia. One of the physicians stated that, “[the] [j]ail didn’t treat her fast enough.”

Ms. Gillespie died after 12 days in the hospital.

Ms. Gillespie’s mother has alleged, among other things, failure of the prison system to provide adequate medical care.  She has requested a jury trial.

The organization New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice sponsored a march on the Allegheny County Jail last week (see here).  There will be a public forum in the Pittsburgh area tomorrow, November 30 (see here).

-Bridget Crawford

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