CT pays $250,000 to woman who gave birth in a prison cell
The State of Connecticut has agreed to pay $250,000 to the Laboy family after Tianna Laboy delivered her child into a prison cell toilet bowl while she was incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in February 2018.
Laboy filed a civil rights lawsuit in March 2019, alleging she had been denied and delayed in getting the medical care she needed. She repeatedly told corrections staff that she had stomach pains between Feb. 6 and Feb 13, 2018. Medical workers sent her back to her cell with a pitcher of ice water and a hot cloth before she delivered her child early in the morning of Feb. 13.
“We believe this settlement serves the best interests of all involved. The Office of the Attorney General is committed to the fair treatment of all incarcerated individuals,” said Elizabeth Benton, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office.
The money will be split into three parts: into a special needs trust for the child, who will be 3 years old in February; into a special needs trust for Laboy herself; and to cover the cost of her attorneys’ fees.
Ken Krayeske and DeVaughn Ward, attorneys for Laboy and her mother, Karine, said they worried that once the amount of her settlement becomes public, Tianna would be targeted by her incarcerated peers looking to get their hands on the money they think she has.
“My client now has a number on her back,” said Krayeske.
An exhibit filed in the case shows the state paid $527,336.43 for the cost of Laboy’s medical care and incarceration from Aug. 15, 2017 to June 5, 2020. Another exhibit shows the state paid $13,563.46 for her child’s medical costs from Feb. 13, 2018 to March 24, 2020.
The settlement agreement the state Laboy and her lawyers signed on Dec. 9 notes that Connecticut has agreed to waive any right to recover debts Laboy incurred from her incarceration.
Ward said the looming threat of the state clawing back money awarded to Laboy was a factor in their decision to settle.
“This is simply the reality of what we had to do, because the quiet part is Connecticut was threatening to assume her prison lien of whatever we were able to obtain at a trial,” Ward said. “With that calculus, Tianna could have been in a situation where she won a jury verdict of $600,000 or $700,000 and still ended up with nothing.”
The settlement agreement also says that the state does not admit liability. “That’s standard language, but this isn’t a standard situation,” Ward said. “This is something horrifically unique, and it’s a situation where not only the Commissioner of Correction apologized to Tianna, but the governor, and passed legislation because of her.
“Tianna didn’t ask to be forced to give birth in a cell,” Ward said. “Her baby didn’t ask to have a birth certificate saying she was born in a prison.”
Laboy is currently serving a seven-year sentence for assault. Krayeske said Laboy is serving a mandatory-minimum sentence of five years, which would end in July 2022.
“This is not justice,” said Ward, one of Laboy’s attorneys, who added that the state is not protecting public safety by keeping Laboy at York. “It’s putting the state of Connecticut at greater risk of liability.”
“It does not mean her sentence needs to be served where her and her disabilities are subject to the arbitrary whims of a paramilitary force,” said Krayeske.
Previous filings in the lawsuit detailed Laboy’s mental health conditions, which alleged that her placement in the women’s prison’s mental health infirmary “guaranteed she would be seen in a negative, stigmatized manner,” leading medical personnel to not take her complaints seriously. Krayeske said that if Laboy were a man, she would be held at Garner Correctional Institution, a penitentiary for incarcerated men with significant mental health needs. But because she’s a woman, she’s stuck at York, Connecticut’s only women’s prison.
Krayeske and Ward said they planned on filing a sentence modification for Laboy, so she can get out of prison, get the treatment she needs and spend time with her child.
“My client is stuck in the place where this horrible thing happened to her, and she has to talk to and see the people that let this happen to her on a daily basis,” said Krayeske.
Laboy and her attorneys also reached a settlement with Michelle Fiala, the nurse at York whom the Department of Correction identified in an internal report as the person with the most relevant experience at the time Laboy gave birth. Fiala denied receiving calls for help from corrections officers on the day Laboy was in labor, but security cameras showed otherwise; she also claimed she performed an assessment of Laboy, but camera footage shows Laboy had only been in the medical unit for about 10 minutes. In addition, she disregarded corrections staff who told her they thought Laboy had had blood clots, saying, “if there were blood clots, the baby would be coming soon, so there is no way there are blood clots.”
Laboy delivered her baby within 10 minutes of that exchange, according to the DOC report.
Fiala is no longer working at York. The terms of her settlement with Laboy are sealed.
Attorneys for the state previously argued it was “essential” Fiala’s settlement amount be disclosed, in part because “any proceeds of the settlement are likely to be the subject of numerous liens asserted by the State of Connecticut to recoup, among other things, the costs of plaintiff Tianna Laboy’s incarceration as well as health care paid for with state funds for both plaintiffs.”
CT Mirror reporter Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.
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