Friday, February 2, 2007

Pregnant woman arrest on way to hospital, miscarries

For now, Sofia Salva will let her attorney and the videotape of two police officers ignoring her pleas for medical help speak for her.

Salva, who said she was three months pregnant and bleeding when Kansas City police stopped her for traffic violations last February, believes she wouldn't have had a miscarriage had officers aided her.

A police videotape released Tuesday brought attention to the incident. Salva also has filed a wrongful death and personal injuries lawsuit against the Kansas City Police Department and two officers who arrested her.

"It's tragic, it's disappointing, it's frustrating, it's sickening at times," Salva's attorney, Andrew Protzman, said Wednesday. "This is a lady who was in severe medical distress and clearly needed emergency medical attention and medical treatment."

Kansas City police spokesman Capt. Rich Lockhart said Wednesday that he doesn't know how long the department's internal investigation will take. The two officers remain on duty.

"We want to ensure the community trusts us to get to the bottom of this regardless of the way it reflects on the Police Department," Lockhart said.

Salva, a Sudanese native, was pulled over Feb. 5, 2006, by officers Melody Spencer and Kevin Schnell, who had seen her affix a fake temporary tag on her car's back windshield.

"She told the officers repeatedly over the course of 45 minutes that she was bleeding, she was pregnant, she needed medical attention," Protzman said. "And they ignored her request and refused to listen to her and refused to take care of her."

Salva was taken to jail and kept overnight on traffic violations and outstanding city warrants. The next morning, Salva claims, she was released and delivered a premature baby boy who died a minute after birth.

"If Sofia could have her baby back, she would love to have that," Protzman said. "But the police took that opportunity away from her. She's pursuing the only recourse that's available to her under the law."

The suit, filed Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court, seeks actual damages exceeding $25,000 and punitive damages to punish and deter such conduct in the future.

Protzman said the officers made the wrong assumptions about Salva, who declined interview requests.

No telephone numbers are listed for the two officers, and a representative of their union, the Kansas City Police Officers' Association, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Lockhart said both Spencer and Schnell are declining comment for now.

Spencer has been with the department four years and Schnell less than two years.

The videotape of Salva's police stop was released after The Kansas City Star made an open records request. The tape shows Salva telling the officers numerous times that she was pregnant, bleeding and needing to go to the hospital.

After the ninth request, Spencer responds: "How is that my problem?"

Once she's been told why she's under arrest, Salva tells the officers she is having a miscarriage and is bleeding.

"Do you want to check me?" Salva asks. "I'm bleeding. I have a 3-month baby inside."

The tape shows Schnell walking away from the car and telling his partner: "She just gave me a line of excuses. She said she's bleeding. She said you can check her."

Salva repeats that she's three months pregnant and bleeding.

"OK," Spencer answers. "Why are you driving to the store and then putting a fake temporary tag in your car?"

Salva explains that she was on her way to the hospital.

The officers make Salva sit on the curb as they search her car, purse and grocery sacks. Salva again says she's bleeding, asks the officers to check her underwear and asks to go to the hospital.

"Well," Spencer says, "that will be something you can take care of when we get done with you."

Salva becomes upset after officers take awhile to get her identifying information. "I have a baby in my stomach and I'm bleeding and I open my underwear for you to see," she says.

"Stay seated!" Schnell yells.

"If I die here, will you take care of me?" Salva asks. "If I die here?"

"Fair enough," Schnell says.

The officers handcuff Salva after learning she has outstanding city warrants for mistreatment of children, trespassing, driving while suspended and other traffic violations.

"I'm bleeding. I swear to my God," Salva says.

Schnell replies: "I don't doubt that you're possibly bleeding, but you got a lot more problems with us."

Salva, in her lawsuit, says she continued to plead for help at the jail but still was ignored.

The next morning, jailers let her go to a hospital after she passed a large blood clot.