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$4.1 million settlement in shackled prisoner case

Updated: May 22, 2012 10:03PM

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has agreed to pay $4.1 million to settle a lawsuit brought by pregnant prisoners who say they were shackled before, after, and in some cases during childbirth.

More than 80 women said their hands and feet had been shackled to hospital beds by Sheriff’s officers while they were in county custody between 2006 and 2011.

They included Catherine Zambrowski, who claimed she was shackled for 11 hours while giving birth at Stroger Hospital in August 2008, and Simone Jackson, who said she was shackled for four hours while giving birth a month later.

Under the deal agreed Tuesday by Federal Judge Amy St. Eve, each of the 80-plus women will get between $5,000 and $45,000.

“There was an armed deputy guarding the hospital room — it’s not like these women were going to jump up and run away while they were in labor,” said attorney Tom Morrissey, who represented the pregnant moms.

The Sheriff’s office previously said it was necessary to shackle women in labor because of a 1998 case in which a woman jumped out of a hospital window and died. Under the terms of Tuesday’s settlement, it did not accept any wrongdoing.

But in a statement released Tuesday, Spokesman Frank Bilecki said that the Sheriff “strictly prohibits the use of security restraints on pregnant women in custody” unless there are “unusual circumstances.”

Bilecki said the settlement was “an efficient way to end this lawsuit and to prevent further cost to taxpayers,” describing Dart’s wider policy of dealing with pregnant detainees in a segregated “therapeutic environment” as the “most progressive ... in the nation.”

Morrissey, whose law firm will receive more than $1 million of the settlement, described the deal as “fair and reasonable.”

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