A preliminary internal investigation conducted by the Ellis County Sheriff's Office has concluded after an inmate alleged jailers failed to provide medical attention to her and her newborn baby.
The case is now under investigation by the Texas Rangers, which Ellis County Sheriff Chuck edge detailed to the Daily Light as the standard operating procedure.
The investigation began after Shaye Marie Bear spoke with WFFA-TV Channel 8 and alleged staff members at the Wayne McCollum Detention Center failed to provide adequate medical care to an inmate after she gave birth.
The Ellis County Sherif's Office disputes the claims.
Sgt. Joe Fitzgerald, Ellis County Sheriff's Office PIO, stated Bear received an extensive medical evaluation upon entering the jail. Deputies arrested Bear March 10 for possession of a controlled substance.
“Throughout her time of confinement, Bear received regular medical care and evaluation, including prenatal care,” Fitzgerald said. “Bear routinely and consistently refused certain medical options, which were available to her.”
Fitzgerald reported Bear told Judge Cindy Ermatinger, of the 443rd Judicial District Court of Ellis County, at a May 17 hearing that she had received no medical care for her unborn child before being incarcerated in the detention center.
Fitzgerald stated Bear informed the court she had a history of using methamphetamine while she was pregnant and had previously given birth while in custody at the Dallas County Jail for a felony drug offense. He added Bear confirmed to Ermatinger that she "hid a controlled substance in her vagina, and she admitted that "it was dangerous behavior," an ECSO press release states.
The release also notes that Ermatinger told the inmate, “I think that you and I know for sure your baby is safer right now" after denying Bear’s request for a lower bond.
Fitzgerald stated later that evening, Bear gave birth to a premature infant at the detention center and was transported immediately to Baylor Scott and White Medical Center – Waxahachie. The infant was then flown to Cook’s Children Hospital for specialized medical care but passed away on May 26.
The cause of death is pending the autopsy report.
Bear told WFAA that she “screamed for hours, begging for them (the guards) to come and help me.” She added, “guards would walk by and tell me they wouldn’t do nothing for me until I had that baby in that cell.”
After the birth Bear told the station, “It took a long time for them to finally respond.”
The station also reported that Bear saw a doctor earlier in the day, but he thought Bear was experiencing an infection.
Fitzgerald reported multiple witnesses were interviewed regarding the birth of the child.
“Ms. Bear routinely displayed antipathy toward her unborn child, and her conduct was noted by many as being detrimental to the life of Baby Bear,” Fitzgerald said. “The accounts of events prior to the birth of Baby Bear have been corroborated by jail staff, medical staff, and inmates who were housed with Ms. Bear.”
Ellis County Sheriff Chuck Edge said all incidents in the jail are investigated — whether as tragic as Bear's claims or a grievance filed by an inmate.
“If it is a grievance from an inmate, we listen to what they say and pull all of the videos. We gather all that information and make a decision,” Edge said. “If its something more criminal or could be criminal, such as in this case with the baby being born and the possibility of any criminal wrongdoing on anyone’s part, we call in an independent third party, which is generally the Texas Rangers.”
Edge stated if the Ranger who leads the investigation is authorized by his chain of command to conduct the probe and the sheriff’s office provides him with all information and video he needs.
The ECSO also makes arraignments for the Ranger to visit with witnesses, staff members, and inmates. The length of the investigation depends on what the incident is and the situation, which can vary from case to case.
Edge stated it would not be appropriate "if the sheriff’s office were investigating this ourselves. An independent investigator is critical to maintaining the integrity of the investigation, transparency, and openness in the government."
He noted there are times when an independent investigator is not needed, such as when an offense is fully captured and documented on video.
Edge stated cases like the one launched by Bear's allegations limit the amount of information that can be released due to its ongoing status and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The act provides privacy and security provisions for personal medical information.
“We don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the Texas Rangers investigation, and it is their investigation. So they need to be commenting on the investigation portion of it,” Edge said. “Even when we can talk about it. It is so wrapped up in medical issues and HIPAA because you can’t release anyone’s personal medical information.”
Edge stated the sheriff's office is waiting on the final autopsy report to be delved to the Texas Rangers and for them to close the case officially. The sheriff’s office will then consult with the Ellis County District Attorney’s office to see what additional information can be released.