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Inmate Who Died After Giving Birth Was Neglected By Jail Staff, Family Says
An inmate who died only weeks after giving birth to a son and receiving an emergency hysterectomy complained of pain, but was ignored by jail staff, according to her family.
Angela Monica Zuniga, 33, of San Bernardino was an inmate at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, the L.A. Times reports. She gave birth to her son via a C-section on February 10, and was given an emergency hysterectomy following the birth. The baby boy, named Exodus, was Zuniga's seventh child.
According to Zuniga's sister, Sonia Zuniga, she complained of pain several times following the surgery, but was only given Tylenol by jail employees. On February 27 at about 10 p.m., she collapsed inside her cell and was taken to a hospital in Colton where she died the next day at 5:41 a.m.
Zuniga's family, who communicated with her via phone while she was in custody, believes that her death could have been prevented. Sonia Zuniga claims that her sister was made to sweep and mop after her surgery, and that she was put in solitary confinement after she complained of being in too much pain to complete the chores.
"When she told them she was in too much pain—you know, she was cut sideways and upward—and she was in too much pain to do the tasks, so staff punished her and put her in the hole for that," Sonia Zuniga told CBS Los Angeles.
She also said that Zuniga was taken to a hearing while handcuffed and secured by a waist chain to another inmate, who later got into a fight with someone else. This could have caused stress on her incisions, her sister says.
Sandra Lugo, Zuniga's mother, told the Press Enterprise that she believes her daughter's life could have been saved if jail employees had taken her to the hospital earlier.
"They ignored her. They didn't believe her. They just thought she was faking it, and she wasn't," Lugo said.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department's Specialized Investigations Division is looking into Zuniga's death. Sheriff's spokesperson Jodi Miller said that when inmates request medical attention, they go to the infirmary where staff will decide if they need to go to the hospital or not. She said the department is unable to comment on Zuniga's case at this time because it would be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Regulations.
Zuniga was arrested on January 11 on charges of shooting at an empty dwelling and possessing a firearm as a felon.
San Bernardino County is currently being sued by Prison Law Office, prisoner-advocacy group, alleging that inmates are receiving poor healthcare, according to the Press Enterprise. Two West Valley inmates—George Topete and Zachary Shovey—are acting as the plaintiffs on behalf of all inmates involved in the class-action lawsuit. Topete has trouble walking and has been denied a cane and given a wheelchair instead, according to the complaint. However, his cell is not wheelchair accessible and Topete has suffered falls. Shovey, who has in the past been suicidal and suffers hallucinations, was not given mental health treatment or medications for a year, according to the complaint.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the department is working with Prison Law Office on a number of improvements, including adding staff and retrofitting West Valley to be ADA compliant.