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Crime News

Baby Born In Texas Jail Cell Dies, Records Show Judge Refused To Release Mother Hours Before Birth

"Can you ask them to take me to the emergency room?" Shaye Bear asked Texas Judge Cindy Ermatinger.

By JB Nicholas

A baby born prematurely to a Texas jail inmate has died, and a judge rejected the inmate mom's request to be released or taken to a hospital hours before she gave birth, court records show.

Shaye Bear was five months pregnant and incarcerated for allegedly possessing methamphetamine when she gave birth to a one pound, two ounce baby boy on May 17, in a solitary confinement cell at the Ellis County Jail in Waxahachie, Texas, Oxygen.com reported after the birth. 

Bear’s baby survived in neonatal intensive care at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth for just nine days, while Bear was kept in jail, according to Kent McGuire, Bear’s Ellis County criminal defense attorney.

Efforts to reach Bear for this story were not successful — but a transcript of the hearing, obtained by Oxygen.com, shows she told the judge she was having contractions five minutes apart and asked, "Can you ask them to take me to the emergency room?"

“I brought a habeas corpus writ to get her released or her bail reduced, but the judge denied it and sent her back to jail. She told them she was having contractions and asked to be taken to the hospital — they ignored that,” McGuire told Oxygen.com.

The tragedy has focused attention on the 12,000 or so pregnant women who are arrested and incarcerated every year, according to figures compiled by the ACLU, and how they are treated by police, prosecutors, courts and jail officials.  

In Bear’s case, Ellis County Assistant District Attorney Ricky Sipes accused her of using methamphetamine while she was pregnant, and argued that the “health and well-being” of Bear’s fetus required she be kept in jail.

“And we believe that something's got to be done in order to protect the unborn child,” Sipes said.

The judge hearing the case, the Hon. Cindy Ermatinger of the 443 Texas District Court, sided with Sipes. She said that sending Bear back to jail was the right thing to do because “then we’ll know your baby is safe,” Judge Ermatinger told Bear, according to the transcript.

“Normally I like to let young ladies out of jail because ... it costs a lot to go back and forth to Hope Clinic, have babies in the jail, but I do not believe your baby will be safe if I let you out,” Judge Ermatinger explained to Bear, according to the transcript.

Mark Griffith, a criminal defense attorney and President of the Ellis County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told Oxygen.com that he believes how Bear was treated was wrong.

“This can’t stand,” he said.

“It well could be criminal,” said Griffith. “The Texas Rangers are investigating. The indignity of placing her in a single cell while she’s in labor is unconscionable.”

“Whether you’re a meth addict or a murderer, you’re entitled to decent medical care,” said Griffith.“That baby was as innocent as a snowflake and is now dead.”

When reached by telephone, Sipes, the Ellis County Assistant District Attorney, told Oxygen.com that he couldn’t comment because the case was pending.

A call to Judge Ermatinger’s chambers for comment was not returned.

Joe Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for Ellis County Sheriff Charles Edge, who is responsible for the Ellis County Jail, confirmed that a baby was born in the jail on May 17 at 6:20 p.m.

“Both the child and the mother were taken to Baylor Scott and White Hospital in Waxahachie for medical treatment. The Texas Rangers are investigating the circumstances surrounding the birth,” he said in a statement to Oxygen.com. 

 Lt. Lonny Haschel, a spokesperson for the Texas Rangers, confirmed that the Rangers are investigating "an incident at the jail. The investigation is ongoing and no additional information will be released."

The case began just before midnight on March 10, 2018, with a car stop by Cpl. Anton Mikeska of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department, according to an affidavit sworn to by Mikeska in support of Bear’s arrest, obtained by Oxygen.com.

During the car stop, four people including Bear were detained, the affidavit says. Police used dogs to detect drugs within the vehicle, but when police searched the car, no drugs were found. That’s when police turned their attention to Bear, and told her that her companions had said she was carrying drugs.

Police say Bear admitted “to having stuffed a baggie of a crystal like substance in her vagina area,” and they arrested her for possessing methamphetamine, the affidavit says. Her bail was set at $5,000.00 and she was sent to the Ellis County jail.

Her lawyer, McGuire, filed a petition asking that she be released or her bail lowered to one she could afford, and Judge Ermatinger held a hearing on the case on May 17.

At the start of the hearing, at 2:34 p.m., McGuire asked Bear if she was pregnant and if she had been having “some problems with that pregnancy just recently?”

Bear answered that she was bleeding, had been in pain for two days and was “having contractions every five minutes apart all night, have been all night. And I have turned in six different bloody pads and have still not...”

McGuire then asked when jail officials had provided her with medical attention.

Bear answered that she’d been seen this morning. 

"I've been in segregation because they had to monitor my pads because I've had to turn in five different bloody pads because I have been under so much stress, and I've been having contractions,” she said.

Judge Ermatinger ultimately refused to release Bear or lower her bail, sending her back to jail, “And then we'll know your baby is safe,” she said.

Bear had one last request as she was led out of the courtroom: “Can you ask them to take me to the emergency room because they...”

Judge Ermatinger cut Bear off mid-sentence, the transcript shows, and denied that request: “They will take you back to the jail and have the doctor look at you and see if you need to go to the emergency room.”

It was 3:15 p.m. Bear gave birth three hours, five minutes later, alone in a solitary confinement cell at the jail.

[Photo: Ellis County Sheriff’s Department]