State Commission Says Neglect Caused Death of Pregnant Woman in Jail

Rachel Roth

The New York State Commission of Correction has issued a scathing report on the death of a pregnant woman in an Onondaga County jail, finding that competent medical attention would have saved her life.

For more on the case of Chuniece Patterson and the medical neglect of pregnant women in prison, read Rachel Roth’s article for Rewire, “Going to Jail Shouldn’t Mean Losing Your Rights…Or Your Life.”

The unprofessional conduct of Onondaga County Jail nurses and deputies cost a young woman her life, according to a report of the New York State Commission of Correction that was obtained by the Syracuse Post-Standard.

That woman was Chuniece Patterson, a 21 year-old African American jailed last November in Syracuse, New York. Patterson died of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, after repeatedly informing jail deputies and nurses of pain, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Other women in the jail also notified the staff that Patterson was in obvious pain and needed help. None of the numerous encounters with nurses or deputies resulted in a proper medical evaluation. In her final hours, Patterson was told to “knock it off” and get up off the floor.

The report, which the newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, states that a nurse “provided grossly and flagrantly negligent and incompetent nursing care to inmate Patterson in that she completely misinterpreted and minimized the significance of pain and vomiting.”

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

DONATE NOW

The Commission’s bottom line: “Had Ms. Patterson received adequate and competent medical care, her death would have been prevented.”

The Commission recommends that the state Office of Professional Discipline investigate one of the nurses’ conduct and that the sheriff monitor both nurses’ performance, and recommends that the sheriff take “appropriate disciplinary action” against the deputy who ignored Patterson. The Commission also calls for the sheriff to review its policies on the treatment of pregnant women and for better training and supervision of jail staff.

In between the redacted passages, however, the report documents numerous instances where jail staff failed to follow existing policies and protocols, failures that had grave consequences.

Members of Patterson’s family have already expressed plans to sue the jail for causing her death. This report may give the county incentive to settle rather than have to defend its actions in court.

Click here for the Post-Standard’s coverage and to find a link to the Commission’s report.

Click here for my previous discussion of the case.

Load More