County sued over death of pregnant inmate
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A 27-year-old pregnant woman's journey through the criminal justice system ended in her death from pneumonia following ineffective treatment in the Allegheny County Jail, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
Amy Lynn Gillespie, of Cuddy and, later, Knoxville, was jailed in December for violating the terms of her work release by becoming pregnant. Initially found to be in good health, according to the complaint filed by Downtown attorney Robert N. Peirce, she was complaining by the end of that month of difficulty breathing and discharge from her lungs.
Treated for viral influenza and denied diagnostic tests, according to the complaint, she worsened and then was transferred on Jan. 1 to UPMC Mercy. There she was found to have bacterial pneumonia, too far advanced to be successfully treated with antibiotics. She and the fetus, then 18 weeks along, died Jan. 13.
Mr. Peirce filed the civil rights lawsuit for the deceased's mother, Luann Gillespie Shultz.
Ms. Gillespie's legal troubles started with a pair of shoplifting convictions in 2004. In 2007, she was caught taking shampoo and steak from the Bridgeville Giant Eagle, and told the arresting officer that she did it because she was hungry. That year she was also caught stealing two $55 silver rings from Macy's, Downtown.
In 2008, she was picked up for soliciting men on Brownsville Road. Put on probation, she was referred to the Program for Reintegration Development and Empowerment of Exploited Individuals, which offers counseling and services to women arrested for prostitution.
She didn't comply with her probation terms and was sentenced to six to 12 months of jail or alternative housing in February 2009. Mr. Peirce said she would have been released around the beginning of this year had she not become pregnant, been jailed, and gotten sick. He said UPMC Mercy did not appear to be liable.
Named in the lawsuit are the county; jail Warden Ramon C. Rustin; the nonprofit Allegheny Correctional Health Services Inc., which provides medical care in the jail; its president, Dana Phillips; and several unnamed jail personnel.
Mr. Rustin and a county spokeswoman said they could not comment on litigation.
ACHS was created by the Allegheny County Health Department in 2000 to eliminate the contracting of jail health care to private firms. It has been sued six times in federal court since the beginning of 2009. Attorney Stanley A. Winikoff, who represents ACHS, said that's a modest number of lawsuits given that some 25,000 people spend time in the jail annually.
The jail's adequacy for women, notably those who are pregnant, has been criticized by the human rights organization New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.
Ms. Gillespie's story is "clearly a reproductive injustice, and it's a human rights violation," said LaTasha Mayes, executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh. She questioned whether a transfer to jail was an appropriate response to pregnancy.
"Ms. Gillespie should still be alive," she said.
First Published November 17, 2010 12:00 am