Woman gave birth in Denver jail cell alone, lawsuit says

This screen grab from a video released to Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP law firm by the Denver County Jail shows Diana Sanchez going into labor the morning of July 31, 2018, alone in her jail cell in Denver.
This screen grab from a video released to Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP law firm by the Denver County Jail shows Diana Sanchez going into labor the morning of July 31, 2018, alone in her jail cell in Denver.Denver County Jail/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Pacing in her jail cell, Diana Sanchez knew she was about to go into labor. She had been experiencing contractions for nearly five hours.

Security footage showed Sanchez knocking on the cell door for help just before 10 a.m. on July 31, 2018, but all she got was a thin, white mat slid under the door. For an hour, Sanchez had contractions, writhing in pain and screaming for help, the footage showed.

Sanchez, 27, gave birth alone in the cell with no medical supervision or treatment, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against Denver, Denver Health Medical Center, and several nurses and deputies.


“What should have been one of the happiest days of her life was instead a day of unnecessary terror, pain, and humiliation,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the defendants had violated the constitutional and state law rights of Sanchez and her newborn, a boy who weighed just over 5 pounds. In short, the government is required to provide medical care for people in its custody, said Mari Newman, Sanchez’s lawyer.

“Diana is struggling,” Newman said. “She continues to flash back to the event. She was absolutely petrified and nobody would do anything to give her the medical care that she so obviously needed. This is the kind of trauma that doesn’t go away.”

Sanchez was being held on identity theft charges. She had cashed a check that belonged to her sister, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years of probation, Newman said. However, she had failed to satisfy a condition of the probation and was booked into the jail on July 14.

Sanchez was more than eight months pregnant when she was placed in a cell in the medical unit, separated from the general population and monitored by Denver Health medical staff members through a video camera, Newman said.


The day before she gave birth, Sanchez was examined by a nurse who advised her to seek medical attention “immediately” after her first contraction. The next morning, Sanchez informed the deputy who delivered her breakfast that she had been experiencing contractions, according to the lawsuit.

For the next several hours, Sanchez spoke with deputies and nurses at least eight times, informing them of her contractions, the lawsuit said.

A nurse noted that Sanchez’s water had broken and her underwear was wet and bloody around 9:45 a.m., but officials did not take Sanchez to a hospital, the suit said.

A nurse did not come into Sanchez’s jail cell until after she had delivered her baby, security footage showed.

According to the lawsuit, nurses failed to provide the newborn with basic postdelivery medical care: The baby was not warmed after delivery, mucus was not cleared from his nose or mouth, and no clamps were available to sever the umbilical cord.

The Denver Sheriff Department conducted an internal review and determined that the deputies had followed protocol and policy, Daria Serna, a department spokeswoman, said.

Serna said it was up to Denver Health medical staff members at the time to decide whether Sanchez should be taken to the hospital. After an internal review of the episode, the policy was updated.

“To make sure nothing like this happens again, the Denver Sheriff Department has changed its policies to ensure that pregnant inmates who are in any stage of labor are now transported immediately to the hospital,” the department said in a statement.


Denver Health declined to comment, citing a “pending legal matter,” said a spokesman, Simon Crittle.

Sanchez is living with her family, including her son, Newman said.

“Denver and Denver Health were profoundly indifferent not just to her medical needs, but to her humanity,” Newman said. “We’re hoping this never happens to anybody else.”