‘They didn't pay attention'

Inmate who lost baby describes extradition ride

Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff photo by JOHN WHARTON
Maricris Shaw sits in the company of her attorney Kevin McDevitt while giving her account of an extradition from Florida to St. Mary's, followed by the death of her unborn child.

Maricris Shaw didn't contest extradition back to St. Mary's last May to face criminal charges after her arrest by police in Florida, but she said it began a seven-day ordeal that was soon followed by the death of her unborn child.

Shaw, 35, was granted pretrial release on home detention last week to stay at a Lexington Park residence as she awaits trial on charges of writing bad checks, identity fraud and vehicle taking that have accumulated during the past two years.

Her thoughts during an interview last week, however, were focused on the loss of the child she carried for six months.

"I always dream [of] my baby," she said. "I don't know what the message is. I keep praying to God, what the message is for me."

St. Mary's state's attorney's office has for more than a dozen years contracted a company in Memphis, Tenn., to return criminal suspects here if they're located in another state. The extradition process can be carried out by sending sheriff's deputies to wherever a suspect is located, but the county prosecutor said it's been far cheaper to hire Con-Link Transportation Corp., and that there have been no previous complaints made locally about its services.

Kevin McDevitt, Shaw's lawyer, said his client had a sonogram done in Florida before she got into Con-Link's van.

"Everything was fine with the baby," he said.

Shaw said she told a judge in Florida that she wanted to return to Maryland and resolve her legal problems, but that she was concerned from the onset when the van's crew put her and other inmates in restraints.

"They put a big chain on my belly," she said. "They put me in the back. I was in the middle [with] inmates on my left and right side."

Shaw said she expected to arrive in St. Mary's in a day or two, but that a week-long trip commenced that included a fast-food cheeseburger and cup of water for breakfast, lunch and dinner on almost every day, and a chance to use a bathroom only when the van stopped at a gas station or a jail to drop off some inmates and take on more. She was the only female passenger.

She said there were up to a dozen or more inmates in the van. At times, plus its driver and another company employee. She had ridden in two vans with six different drivers by the time the trip was over, she said. "I don't remember where we stopped," Shaw said. "I feel like I've been in all [of the] United States. Fourteen states I counted."

Shaw said she became dizzy and sweaty during the first couple days of the ride, and that the other inmates tried to get her help because of her pregnancy, including asking the crew to increase the air circulation.

"They didn't pay attention. I started cramping and I cried," she said, alleging that a company employee's response was "just relax. You'll be there the next day."

But the first two days were followed by two more days and different drivers, Shaw said, and her condition worsened.

"The cramping was getting worse and worse," she said. "I got a fever and I got a headache. That's when I started bleeding."

She said she had to change her underwear in the van in the presence of other passengers, and that the discarded pair were put in a pizza box and thrown away before she was allowed to lie down on a small bed in the front of the van. She said her continuing requests to see a doctor eventually prompted a driver to telephone his wife, whose response led the driver to stop at a gasoline station.

At another gas station, Shaw said, a member of the van's crew asked a woman working at the business to follow Shaw into its bathroom and assess her condition.

"The girl said to the officer, ‘She has to go to the doctor right now,'" Shaw recalled. "The officer said, ‘I have to call my boss.' He came back to us in the bathroom and said, ‘We can't do anything. That's an order.' He felt bad for me because I'm suffering."

Shaw said the gas station's manager gave her three acetaminophen tablets to reduce her fever, and that the van's driver said he would risk his job and take her to a nurse at the next jail on their route. The nurse used a stethoscope to measure Shaw's heartbeat and checked her pulse.

"She didn't ask anything. She said, "Perfect.' She just got up [and] went off like that," Shaw recalled. "The officer told me, ‘Let's go.' They didn't even check my baby. How was this perfect?"

Shaw said the van she was riding in returned at one point to an office she had previously been to during the trip, and that the air-conditioning in one of the vans failed as she was told day after day that the next day would be the last day of her ride. She alleged the van she was riding in after a stop at a jail in Virginia was swerving and bumping up and down so badly that it was stopped by police, and that she arrived at St. Mary's jail at 5 a.m. on June 5, which would have been her eighth day on the road. "I'm the last one to get dropped off," she said.

St. Mary's State's Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said last week at his office in Leonardtown that the crimes Shaw is charged with are "all cases that are based on deceit and untruthfulness," and that any liability for the woman's eventual miscarriage would also have to consider any previous health issues and other accounts of what happened.

"It sounds rather unbelievable that someone would keep a human being caged for seven days in a little van," Fritz said. "Her word is not necessarily the last word, nor should her word necessarily be believed without question."

A man answering the phone at Con-Link's offices said Shaw's account would be "impossible" and not in keeping with its inmate delivery schedules.

"Our trips do not last that long," he said.

Capt. Rick Burris of the St. Mary's Bureau of Criminal Investigations said Friday that a detective is continuing an inquiry on the matter, but that no indications of any wrongdoing have been found.

Shaw said she last felt her baby moving the day after she arrived at the St. Mary's jail, and that her medical care at that time addressed a urinary infection but not her prenatal condition.

"I was praying, ‘Please baby, move something for me,'" Shaw said.

She was taken to St. Mary's Hospital four days later, where a nurse could not detect the baby's heartbeat, and Shaw was taken to a room to talk with a doctor who told her the baby had died.

"I yelled and I yelled, ‘No! Don't tell me my baby died. My baby was fine. My baby was fine,'" Shaw said.

After she delivered the stillborn baby the next day, she asked to be taken back to jail and not remain in the hospital any longer.

"I heard the babies crying there," she said. "I told the doctor, ‘I don't want to hear babies crying.'"

St. Mary's Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron (R) said that Shaw promptly was referred to the jail's medical intake unit upon her arrival from Florida, and that a later investigation by a detective and internal-affairs officer revealed no infractions within the police agency.

"She got medical treatment immediately," sheriff's spokesperson Cindy Allen said, with additional care when further concern arose about the baby's condition. "When it was discovered," Allen said, "she was taken to the hospital."


See related story