Since April, four people have died while in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail. Two of them were 38 years old. One was 29. And one was a newborn baby. Now, the mother of that baby is demanding that the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office pay $8.5 million dollars, claiming that jail officials ignored her requests for medical attention as she prepared to give birth.
As it happens, the Milwaukee County Jail is supervised by the office of Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke has been an outspoken supporter of President-elect Donald Trump, and is reportedly under consideration to become the head of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a notice filed by Jason Jankowski, a lawyer representing former inmate Shadé Swayzer, at least one jail official is accused of laughing at, and ignoring, Swayzer's calls for attention after she went into labor in the early hours of July 14. After giving birth around 4 AM, Swayzer was allegedly not seen by medical personnel until 6 AM. The child was pronounced dead later that day.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the sheriff's office claims Swayzer never notified her jailers that she had gone into labor, and the medical care company contracted by the jail stated in the days after the death that the child had been stillborn. Swayzer, however, stated the child was "born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed." Swayzer was reportedly being housed in the "special needs" section of the jail. The Journal-Sentinel reported that Jankowsky stated his client suffers from "severe mental illness," but did not elaborate on its specific diagnosis. When asked by the Journal-Sentinel, both representatives from the Sheriffs' Office and Jankowski declined to comment further.
News of Swayzer's impending claim has refocused attention on a recent string of deaths in the jail.
In September, county medical examiners ruled the April death of inmate Terrill Thomas a homicide by way of severe dehydration while in solitary confinement at the jail. Thomas had reportedly been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was awaiting a psychiatric evaluation at the time of his death. According to Thomas' family's layer, Thomas' jail cell water had been turned off as a punishment for his behavior while imprisoned.
"There was at least one other inmate, if not two, that became aware that Mr. Thomas’ water had been shut off," attorney Erik Heipt told Fox6News.com. "And [they were] repeatedly urging jail guards to turn the water back on."
In late August, 38-year-old Kristina A. Fiebrink was found unresponsive and declared dead in her cell. She had reportedly been arrested for resisting and obstructing an officer. Two months later, Michael J. Madden, 29, was also found dead at the jail house. He had been arrested the previous month on theft and drug-related charges. The causes of both Fiebrink and Madden's death have not been made public.
The renewed scrutiny of inmate fatalities comes, in part, as a result of the uproar over the death of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in her Waller County, TX, jail cell after a minor traffic-related arrest. While her death was initially ruled a suicide, Bland's family eventually settled a nearly $2 million civil suit against Waller County, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, both of whom they claim were responsible.