A high-risk pregnancy, a dirty blanket, and a lawsuit in Loudon County

A pregnant inmate who went into labor in a Loudon County jail was denigrated by guards and repeatedly denied medical care until her water broke, forcing her to deliver a premature baby in the back of an ambulance en route a local hospital, a newly filed lawsuit claims.

The baby — a girl — was born with complete deafness in one ear and limited hearing in the other; prompt medical care may have allowed the pregnancy to continue to term, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week against Loudon County and five unnamed employees of the Loudon County Sheriff's Office.

Genny Jones, the former inmate, is seeking unspecified monetary damages, payment of all future medical expenses for her daughter, mandatory training for jail staff — and a finding that the county violated her constitutional rights during her confinement last year at the jail in Lenoir City, about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

"No matter what a person's circumstances are, maternal health should never be disregarded like was the case with Ms. Jones," a statement from Heather Collins and Ashley Walter of HMC Civil Rights Law, Jones' Brentwood-based attorneys, said.

(READ MORE: Most states ban shackling pregnant women in custody, yet many report being restrained)

County officials and the Sheriff's Office did not respond to phone and email requests for comment; the county has not yet filed its legal response to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Knoxville on Nov. 17, detailed Jones' version of events at the jail in November 2022.

Jones was living in Missouri, 7 1/2 months into a high-risk pregnancy, when a bail bondsman took her into custody on a years-old DUI charge

She had just been ordered to begin bed rest by her doctor. Once in Loudon County, she told jailers her pregnancy was high risk.

A 2-year-old Tennessee law requires prison and jail officials to inform pregnant inmates of their right to prenatal care and to provide appropriate nutrition and medically necessary pre- and post-natal care.

But Jones wasn't offered medical care or screening. And shortly after she was incarcerated, Jones began to experience labor symptoms that were dismissed by a guard who told her to "'sit your ass down.'"

(READ MORE: Georgia public health leader sounds alarm as report confirms spike in pregnancy-related deaths)

When Jones began vomiting, the guard called her a "sick b——" and told to clean herself up.

For the next two to three hours, Jones continued to plead for medical treatment. Then — after getting permission to use the bathroom — Jones felt the baby's head through the opening of her vaginal canal. She saw blood.

"Ms. Jones showed a bloodied toilet paper to the restroom camera in an effort to get the officers' attention. In response, a female officer ... said, 'You are a pain in my ass ,'" according to the lawsuit.

Jones was given a dirty blanket to sit on "while she waited on the bathroom floor until her water broke."

It was only then that jailers called for an ambulance.

"If Ms. Jones had arrived at the hospital earlier, they would have been able to stop the active labor, allowing the pregnancy to continue to full term," the suit said.

"Because Ms. Jones gave birth prematurely, due to LCSO's deliberate indifference, the baby was unable to fully develop full audiological function, resulting in complete deafness in one ear and only 30% function in the other," the suit said.

After the baby's birth, a male officer was assigned to remain in her hospital room until she was taken back to the jail 18 hours later, depriving Jones of the chance to bond with her daughter. She was also denied the ability to express breast milk.

(READ MORE: Report: More than half of all rural Tennessee hospitals no longer deliver babies)

A short while later, she was released from jail on her own recognizance.

Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbar, a Memphis Democrat who sponsored 2020 legislation requiring all jails and prisons to provide medically necessary care to pregnant inmates, said she was angered at the lawsuit's allegations.

The legislation applies to state prisons as well as jails but was chiefly aimed at ensuring uniform approaches to pregnant inmates in local jails across Tennessee, particularly in smaller counties, she said.

"It's sad and makes me angry," Akbari said. "It's extremely disappointing, because we were trying to avoid this exact same scenario."

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.

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