(Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville: No. 3:09-cv-219—William J. Haynes, Jr., District Judge; No. 11-6031, Sixth Circuit of Appeals, CLAY, GIBBONS, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.)
ACLU Attorneys: Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU of Tennessee; Susan Talcott Camp and Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Foundation Reproductive Freedom Project; Amy Fettig, ACLU Foundation National Prison Project
ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney: Kathryn E. Barnett, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Plaintiff/Appellee: Juana Villegas
Defendant/Appellant: Metropolitan Government of Davidson County/Nashville-Davidson County Sheriff’s Office
Juana Villegas, then an undocumented immigrant, was arrested when she was nine months pregnant. The arresting officer, who suspected she was undocumented, chose to exercise his discretion and arrest her instead of issuing her a citation for a traffic infraction. Ms. Villegas’s three children were in the car with her when she was stopped and the family was detained in their car for approximately forty minutes.
Ultimately, because of the 287(g) program, which gives local law enforcement immigration authority, Villegas was kept in custody for over 72 hours. While in custody, she delivered her baby – chained to the bed during her labor. She was not allowed to contact her husband. After giving birth, she was returned to jail without her newborn son and denied access to a breast pump, leading to a severe case of mastitis.
On March 4, 2009, Villegas filed a lawsuit against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office alleging that the practice of shackling non-violent, non-threatening prisoners during labor violated the Eighth Amendment. In 2011 federal district court Judge William J. Haynes Jr. granted summary judgment on liability, finding that the practice of shackling an inmate during labor, unless under extraordinary circumstances, indeed violates the Eighth Amendment.
The sheriff’s office appealed and ACLU filed an amicus brief urging the court to affirm the lower court’s decision.
The city ultimately decided to settle the case for $490,000. In an unprecedented move, a federal judge also entered an opinion certifying a U-Visa for Villegas based on prima facie violations of her civil rights and conspiracy to violate those civil rights. A U-visa is a visa that allows non-citizen victims of crime who are helpful to law enforcement to stay in the U.S.
In September 2008, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office issued a new policy that ended the shackling of detained pregnant women.