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South Carolina Will Only Pay $1m to Woman Whose Baby Died in Prison Toilet

— February 6, 2020

Guards allegedly prevented anyone from going near a toilet in which the premature baby was trapped for close to half an hour.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections will pay a paltry $1 million to a woman whose baby daughter died in a prison toilet.

According to The State, Sinetra Johnson will receive a total award of $1.15 million, of which $750,000 is to be paid by the Department of Corrections. The remaining amount will be split by health contractors Medustrial and MedFirst.

The payments, note The State, were ordered by Richland County Judge George McFadden.

Christopher Mills, an attorney for Johnson, said his client is happy to see the case closed; the lawsuit had been pending and in-process for the better part of eight years.

“She’s very glad to have this behind her and is look forward to the rest of her life,” Mills said late last week.

The State adds that the Corrections Department didn’t admit culpability.

Johnson, wrote The State in an earlier article, had only discovered she was pregnant two days before going to prison for a parole violation.

Prison stairs; image by ActiveSteve, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes.
Prison stairs; image by ActiveSteve, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes.

“As they got bigger, as I started growing more, that’s when reality hit, like, ‘I’m really going to be here, behind the walls having [the babies] and I won’t be able to see [them],” Johnson said. “First pregnancy ever in life.”

And give birth behind bars Johnson did—after only 26 weeks pregnant.

Johnson, though, was pregnant with twins. When she was ready to deliver, guards reportedly refused to assist her, forcing her to give birth in a toilet. That infant, says The State, died inside the basin.

“It’s enough to go to prison in itself,” Johnson said. “But to have to worry about—am I going to be able to go home to my child? No mother should have to go through that.”

The tragedy, though, could easily have been avoided. Johnson, had, in fact, been assigned to a women’s prison that had additional facilities for inmates with special medical needs. And even before going into labor early, she suspected something was amiss.

“I knew something was wrong,” Johnson said. “It just wasn’t the normal feeling that I had during the 25 weeks prior.”

Although Johnson visited the prison’s medical facility several times throughout the day, she wasn’t given a vaginal exam or taken to see an OB/GYN. An autopsy upon her daughter—who she’d named Karmin—suggested the girl, delivered premature and trapped inside an amniotic sac, could’ve been saved with basic medical intervention.

But when Johnson gave birth inside a prison restroom, guards ordered her and other inmates not go near the toilet where Karmin was trapped. The baby spent approximately thirty minutes inside the toilet and was retrieved almost an hour after Johnson went into labor.

“In the beginning, it was really hard,” Johnson told The State in a 2018 interview. “I couldn’t go into clothing stores. I would avoid the little girl’s section altogether. I would see people with twins and I would just… break down. I became angry inside. Angry at myself. Angry at the situation. At the way things happened.

“This shouldn’t have to happen,” she said. “Inmate or not, we’re still people.”

Of the $1.15 million, Johnson and her family will receive only $586,000.


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