Woman Whose Infant Died after Birth in Prison Toilet is Suing Operator of Dawson State Jail

CBS 11's Ginger Allen broke the story last July: Gracie Robinson, a premature infant born in a Dawson State Jail toilet after guards allegedly refused medical treatment while her mother was in labor, died at four days old.

It was one of a string of deaths tied to inadequate medical care at Dawson. Those deaths have fueled increasingly loud calls for the jail, run by the private Corrections Corporation of America, to close.

Now, Gracie's mother, Autumn Miller, is suing CCA, alleging cruel and unusual punishment and negligence.

The story she lays out in the suit is a grisly one. Miller was sent to Dawson on Valentine's Day 2012 to serve a one-year sentence for violating probation on a drug probation charge.

She didn't know she was pregnant at the time but began to suspect it in late May or early June when she began experiencing cramps and fatigue. Per Dawson policy, she described her symptoms on a slip of paper that she gave to guards and requested a pregnancy test and pap smear. She was given neither.

Early on the morning of June 14, the pain grew worse. Miller began bleeding profusely and could barely walk. She felt as if she were having a baby and told guards she needed to see a doctor. It was about 3:30 a.m., two hours after she first requested medical attention, that guards finally wheeled her to the medical unit, according to the suit.

Upon arrival, Miller was greeted not with a doctor but with a video feed connecting her to a male nurse. A guard ordered her to get up and walk to the screen, but she was in too much pain and told the guard she was in labor. The guard then told the nurse that Miller did not need medical attention and switched off the monitor. Miller was then handed a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell.

The suit describes what happened next:

Autumn was screaming in pain. She was losing blood rapidly. She could barely walk. Autumn managed to get herself to the toilet in the holding cell. She looked down and watched, in horror, as she delivered baby Gracie into the toilet. She screamed for help. She was surrounded by blood. She was terrified and could barely move.

When a CCA guard outside the holding cell attempted to get inside, they could not find the key. Approximately fifteen minutes passed. Finally, CCA guards entered the room where Autumn was screaming and her baby was barely breathing. Several CCA employees came into the holding cell while Gracie lay there helpless next to her bleeding mother. Some were screaming at the sight of so much blood. No one from CCA tried to help Gracie while she lay, still attached to Autumn by her umbilical cord. However, one CCA employee found time to get a video camera. Approximately five to ten minutes passed before anyone from CCA called 911.

An ambulance came, and medics cut Gracie's cord and whisked her away to the hospital. Autumn, wrists and ankles shackled, followed in a second ambulance. Four days later, Gracie was dead. Miller was on her way back to Dawson within the hour.

Adding insult to injury, the suit says Miller was greeted upon her return with demands from CCA employees that she admit to having sex with an inmate or guard, since they seemed to think that was the source of her pregnancy. That was, of course, mathematically impossible. Gracie was at 26 weeks when she was born. Miller had been at Dawson for just 17.

Miller argues in her suit that CCA's actions amount to a "wanton disregard" for Miller and Gracie's constitutional rights and safety. Both were completely dependent on CCA for their welfare, and the company utterly failed them. For this, Miller is requesting compensation for Miller's "physical and emotional injuries and Gracie's physical injuries death."

If the legislature does as it seems poised to do, her case might also yield another result: Dawson's permanent closure.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson