Damages trial for immigrant shackled during childbirth starts this week

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 10:00pm
Villegas main.png
Photo by Josh Anderson 


When Davidson County Sheriff’s Office deputies shackled Juana Villegas, then a 33-year-old mother of three, to the hospital bed — releasing her just long enough to give birth before replacing the irons on her wrists — they violated her civil rights. That much has been determined by a court. 

The issue set to go before a jury this week is what compensatory damages Villegas is entitled to, if any, following U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr.’s April 27 order granting partial summary judgment in Villegas’ favor. 

Haynes’ ruled that sheriff’s deputies, and therefore Metro, ran afoul of Villegas’ 14th Amendment rights to due process when they shackled her to a bed at various times during the final stages of her labor, took them off during her delivery, then replaced the shackles shortly thereafter. DCSO deputies also denied Villegas the use of a breast pump during her postpartum recovery. Haynes denied Villegas’ claims of violations against her 1st and 4th Amendment rights of familial association and personal privacy, respectively.

In this week’s damages trial, Villegas is seeking compensation for physical and emotional pain and distress, as well as any future treatment of such. Whatever amount of damages Villegas may be awarded will also be in the hands of the jurors. 

Yet Villegas’ immigration status and pending deportation remain up in the air, likely to be settled after this week’s dust clears. 


Villegas’ plight began the day before Independence Day in 2008, when a Berry Hill police officer pulled her over for a traffic violation that was later dismissed on a technicality, then arrested her for driving without a valid driver’s license. Upon her arrest, the officer transported her to a Davidson County jail where she was held until July 5 — the courts of course closed for the July 4 holiday.

In jail, a sheriff’s deputy, per the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program, screened Villegas and determined she was not only in the U.S. illegally but also had been deported once and re-entered the country illegally. The deputy placed an ICE detainer on her, meaning she could remain in jail for up to 48 hours. 

On the evening of July 5, deputies transported Villegas from the Davidson County jail to a female correctional facility on Harding Pike. At 10 o’clock that night, her water broke. 

An ambulance transported her, hands and legs restrained, to Nashville General Hospital, where DCSO deputies kept her shackled to a hospital bed for her labor and recovery. Deputies unshackled her only long enough for her to deliver her son. 

Villegas’ attorneys — William L. Harbison, Phillip F. Cramer and John L. Farringer IV, all of the Sherrard & Roe law firm — along with immigration attorney Elliot Ozment, all declined to talk about the case on the record. Metro attorneys Kevin Klein and Allison Bussell — who represent the DCSO as part of Metro — also chose to save the talking for the courtroom.

Villegas’ attorneys have claimed that since her incarceration three summers ago, the mother has suffered back and leg pain preventing her from sitting for long periods. They’ve also said she has flashbacks of the ordeal, triggered in the presence of the son who was born into the middle of a controversy that’s made national headlines. 

Attorneys for Metro, representing the sheriff’s office, have claimed that while Villegas may be emotionally distressed, it is only because her pending deportation weighs heavily on her mind — and through no fault of DCSO — and therefore Metro should owe her nothing.

Metro’s argument is that Villegas, and the expert witnesses that testified on her behalf, “drastically overstated the damages, if any, that the sheriff’s office caused her.” 

That notion, Villegas’ attorneys argued in court filings, flies in the face of Haynes’ order finding partial liability of the sheriff’s office. 

If the immigration-status path is one Metro wants to steer the trial down, then the Sherrard & Roe attorneys and Ozment look prepared to address the concern, stating in a court filing that it’s “currently unlikely that [Villegas] will be deported but instead will receive at least deferred action, as she has informally received for the past three years.” 

They later state, “Given the national and international support for Ms. Villegas, it is unlikely she will ever be deported.”

Prior to the deadline for this article, Haynes had yet to rule on pretrial motions to determine what testimony would be admissible for the damages trial.

While it may seem like a bold thumb-to-nose statement, the attorneys go on to lay out four potential options they said could allow Villegas to avoid deportation: private congressional legislation, humanitarian parole, a cancellation of removal and a “U” visa, which would appear to hold the most water for Villegas and her attorneys. 

The federal government, according to Villegas’ court filing, issues about 10,000 such “U” visas (named after a section of federal law) per year to those who “have suffered physical or mental abuse” as a victim of certain criminal activity, including unlawful criminal restraint and false imprisonment.

If, down the road, a judge awarded Villegas such a visa, according to court documents, she could remain in the country on an employment authorization card and eventually obtain legal permanent resident status. 

Nashville attorney David Esquivel, who has followed the trial with interest, said the damages portion of the case is in a way the culmination of the process to hold Metro accountable for the improper treatment of a pregnant woman in labor, regardless of her undocumented status. 

“It’s an important trial because it sort of exposes what kind of basic human dignities you are going to give people,” he said. “Is it going to be found OK to treat people the way Juana Villegas was treated because of their immigration status?” 


25 Comments on this post:

By: steelergirl on 8/15/11 at 6:33

OMG, WTF and other little words that describe my feelings. I guess the lawyers FORGOT that she was here illegally, driving without a drivers license, deported and said "the h*ll with that, I'm entitled to live in America and returned....so now she has flashbacks, lol about her punishment - NOT anything she did, she had no fear when she crossed the border, no fear when she was driving illegally and saw those blue lights behind her, no fear when she was deported, but the fear from handcuffs sure scared her.
This payoff will guarantee her extended family of 45? will live happily ever after on Americas dime - as usual.

By: unega59 on 8/15/11 at 6:35

She is here in our country Trespassing, stealing from the American people that work and pay taxes everyday. She has been deported once already and now back dropping another Anchore baby for us to pay for. When will it stop? Put her in Prison, send her kid back to mexico, when she gets out of prison, send her back to mexico. They should have not taken the chains off at all. When will America wake up?

By: bfra on 8/15/11 at 6:49

She should be sued for all the money she has conned the taxpayers out of! What happened to ENFORCING laws & punishing CRIMINALS?

By: govskeptic on 8/15/11 at 6:56

The lawsuit helps keep her in the country even longer under some pretense
of being important to our justice system! meanwhile the cost to taxpayers keeps
going up and win or lose the Federal Judge will probably award her attorney
a nice fee (also taxpayer dollars) so the going around in circles continues!
What a system !!!!

By: localboy on 8/15/11 at 7:57

Shackles on a pregnant woman? During delivery? Really?

By: mg357 on 8/15/11 at 8:45

mg357; re-entering the US following deportation becomes a felony....as for shackles while giving birth; most physicians employ the use of straps to prevent movement during delivery especially if the mother is sedated........all of the above are correct. She is a criminal and shouldn't be allowed to remain in this country under any circumstances..where is the father of these kids.......mg

By: macjedi on 8/15/11 at 8:53

So many conservative idiots here blather on about rights, with no regard to HUMAN rights. Fools.

By: marcocool on 8/15/11 at 9:50

@macjedi....If this woman lived next door to you and everyday would come over to your house, eat your food, use your water and electricity that you paid for, maybe took your car out for a spin on using your gas, at what point would you stop her? She obviously cares nothing for the protocol of our legal system and along with millions of illegals in this country has pursued loopholes in order to stay here. She is a felon, and she is in this country illegally, and now expects to gain financially from her situation by manipulating our justice system. When will it stop, it won't if we continue to coddle these people under the heading of "Human" rights.

By: bfra on 8/15/11 at 9:54

marcocool - Good post! Stating some logical facts. Ignore macjedi, if you have read any of their previous posts, you could understand why I say that.

By: mg357 on 8/15/11 at 10:27

mg357; one would think she would also be prosecuted for direct defiance of a court ordered deportation and her blatant re-entry....didn't the article say 3 summers ago..she's been here that long sucking off the taxpayers and patently abusing our own human and civil rights......when laws are manipulated in this fashion and exceptions are made on a compassion basis; why do we need laws to begin with..we become a lawless nation...mg

By: budlight on 8/15/11 at 10:56

By: localboy on 8/15/11 at 8:57
Shackles on a pregnant woman? During delivery? Really?

Sneaking across the border? Really? Two times? Really? Being a felon? Really? Listen Localboy, if they had given her the royal treatment and brought the baby into the world with fanfare and all kinds of prizes, she would have still found something to complain and sue about. Don't you know. A lawsuit filed by illegals is the newest United States Lottery!

By: localboy on 8/15/11 at 11:07

Sorry, budlight, every thing said about her being a felon is true...but it's a fine line we walk about when and where such treatment as chains should be used. No lock on the door - really? No lock down unit - really? I can certainly see such use might be necessary in almost any other instance, but not a pregnant woman in a delivery room.

By: Kai on 8/15/11 at 11:37

While she was an illegal, I still don't see the justification of her treatment during labor. I hope she is compensated so that she is able to afford to come to this country legally, like the wealthy in mexico who are fast-tracked through the process.

By: bfra on 8/15/11 at 11:57

Kai - She was & is an illegal felon! If you saw the vedio of when she was arrested, you would understand the restraints. That woman is a coniving, repeat felon and should just be happy she was in the US instead of Mexico, when she chose to break so many laws. In Mexico she would still be looking to at least 9 yrs in prison or more. Taxpayers don't owe her 1 cent!

By: budlight on 8/15/11 at 12:24

Kai, she was, as bfra, a coniving, repeat felon and will probably train her kids to be as well.

By: marcocool on 8/15/11 at 12:30

thanks for the info, I pride myself on being able to look at both sides objectively, but in this case it's straight out cut and dry.

By: nashmusic2244 on 8/15/11 at 3:09

this female defendant caused her own anguish, pain, suffering and whatever loose claims she and her attorneys are shooting for:

She caused it by:

1. Being in the USA illegally; more than once
2. Driving without a valid license

So, she is entitled to nothing more than deportation.

By: skeptic1 on 8/16/11 at 8:14

Not a penny! She is a scam artist; a criminal. I'd like to be there in the courtroom to throw insults at her. ( Throwing actual rocks would be assault with a deadly weapon.) I just want her and her anchor babies shipped out immediately!

It is sickening that she and her attorney and her activist compadres are playing the liberals game. The liberals agenda has polarized the citizenry and forced many moderates to become angry xenophobes.

By: marcpullo on 8/16/11 at 9:32

This makes me sick to my stomache that I myself a LEGAL RESIDENT of this nation. You want to know what this woman deserves a boot in her ass back to her homeland. Furthermore told if she returns to the US ILLEGALLY again she would spend the rest of her life in jail for BREKING OUR LAWS.

By: mg357 on 8/16/11 at 9:38

mg357; This person was issued an order of exclusion from this country in 1996 for attempting entry with another person's documents..she re- entered 10 days later and had been here for 12 years when she was arrested in 2008....her criminal status and deportation order escalated her to medium security level.....I think it is safe to say that her children were born here and most likely we are supporting the entire group..Case no. 09-3229 6th District Court of Appeals...Villegas vs. Holder......

By: marcpullo on 8/16/11 at 9:51

With all this info one would think we as citizens should be able to sue the state, county, and politians who waste taxpayers money in such a way IT'S CALLED THEFT. The giving of any STATE OR FERDERAL MONEY OR BENEFITS is misopporiation of funds is it not? Shouldn't they also face criminal charges?

By: mg357 on 8/16/11 at 9:58

mg357...Marc; if the truth was known here, there is no telling how many are here that have followed this same example..remember the student who was stopped with no license...........we are the victims here due to the governments blatant refusal to enforce our immigration laws and other laws illegals break without impunity.....mg

By: marcpullo on 8/16/11 at 11:07

It's like you said if only the truth was exposed than us citizens would know what's being done now is just the start of a much bigger plan. To strip Canada, the Untited States and Mexico of the being seperate nations and combine us into the North American Union this is fact not fiction. Look it up for yourselves. Your eyes will open you up to a Harsh Reality. With the problem of illegal immagration to this nation looming over this nation for decades now. Which they have done nothing about. The Economic Crisis and the Dollar going belly up all over the world. You start to see the portrait fhey ars getting ready to paint.

By: Legal citizen on 8/16/11 at 6:40

What part of ILLEGAL (meaning not legal or not lawful) in illegal immigrant do you people not understand? She should not be ENTITLED to anything in the U.S., as she is not an american citizen. She had no RIGHTS as those are reserved for American citizens that are LEGALLY here in the country. Moreover she is a repeat criminal offender, First by entering the country ILLEGALLY the first time then being deported and returning once again ILLEGALLY, then driving without a license ILLEGALLY.(Did she have insurance?)
What a joke! You come here illegally, burden our system, commit criminal or illegal offences, then have the nerve to believe we owe you something.How disgusting! If for some reason she is awarded some kind of monetary settlement out of this, it should be seized by the IRS for her tax evasion. Why should I or other taxpaying legal citizens have to pay for people like this? The short answer is we shouldnt! Our country is in debt. We dont have enough money for you too. The loopholes need to be shut down. and the ILLEGALS need to be sent packing!

By: Legal citizen on 8/17/11 at 1:26

By the way who is paying for her hospital stay once again?