State Commission Says Neglect Caused Death of Pregnant Woman in Jail

For more on the case of Chuniece Patterson and the medical neglect of pregnant women in prison, read Rachel Roth’s article for RH Reality Check, “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.”

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.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • colleen

    What a shame that, apparently, none of the people responsible are to be charged with a felony and incarcerated. Indeed it does not appear that any of them are even going to be fired for killing this woman.

  • crowepps

    Firing them now would be considered an admission by the jury that they were incompetent and shouldn’t have been working there.  Admitting they were incompetent and shouldn’t have been working there would be considered acknowledgement that necessary supervision wasn’t done but should have been done.  Firing them now would mean the lawsuit would be a slamdunk for the plaintiff family she left behind.  Unfortunately that means they get to continue to be incompetent at their jobs until the lawsuit is settled, probably a year or two from now.  THEN they’ll get fired.