It was the Bureau of Prisons and the United States Marshals Service that broke their own protocols when they “needlessly and recklessly” transported a pregnant woman across the country to a prison in Fort Worth, where she died from COVID-19. A wrongful death lawsuit against the United States was filed against the government.
Andrea Circle Bear’s life was continuously threatened by the United States government from the moment she was transported on a plane to Texas, according to an administrative claim filed by her family on March 11 against the federal government. In order to reply to the claim, which seeks $20 million in damages to be paid to Circle Bear’s family, the government agencies have six months to answer. If the claim is denied, the family might bring a lawsuit against the insurance company.
Her high-risk pregnancy was in its third trimester when she was placed on a tiny plane with seven other people and taken to Fort Worth during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. There is no mention of masking, social distancing, or COVID-19 testing of any of the passengers on the plane on March 20, 2020, according to the available records.
The 30-year-old tested positive with COVID-19 within six days of being admitted to the hospital. By March 31, she had been admitted to John Peter Smith Hospital, where she gave birth to her daughter by a cesarean section while still in an intubated state. Elcyiah Elizabeth Ann High Bear, her daughter, was born and lived. Circle Bear, on the other hand, did not. On April 28, she passed away as a result of cardiac arrest.
“I didn’t know the details of how much suffering she did,” Circle Bear’s grandmother, Clara LeBeau, said. “And especially there in Texas.”
She was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and had been sentenced to a 26-month prison term for a misdemeanor narcotics crime when she was killed. During her time in federal detention, she became the first woman to die as a result of COVID-19-related problems.
The Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service did not immediately reply to requests to comment.
Risky Conditions at Carswell
Circle Bear was at the John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth when LeBeau last spoke with her, and it was suspected that she was suffering from pneumonia at the time. Since March 26, six days after arriving at the Federal Medical Center Carswell women’s prison in Fort Worth, where she had been confined in quarantine, she had been unable to work.
At Carswell, quarantine meant Circle Bear was thrown into a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell with three other women, who all shared a toilet and sink, according to the complaint. She was imprisoned in the cell for an eight-day period.
According to a lawsuit filed by female employees at FMC Carswell in September 2020, the facility lacked toilet paper, sanitary pads, and soap for the restrooms, among other things. After implementing amended COVID-19 protocols, such as mandating personnel to wear masks, the institution did not implement them until April 2020. According to the lawsuit, women at the facility were issued one mask per week to wear while in custody.
Katherine Rosenfeld, an attorney with Emery Celli LLP who is representing Circle Bear’s grandmother in the lawsuit, said it was “shocking” that a prison that bills itself as a medical facility would put “four people transferred from two different locations in the same cell,” adding that it was “disgusting that a prison that bills itself as a medical facility” would do so.
“To me what it says is that Carswell had a shockingly poor emergency/medical response to the pandemic that was so dangerous,” she said. “And obviously led to Andrea’s death.”
According to a whistleblower complaint submitted by Carswell’s union, the company’s employees were only provided rudimentary instructions on how to cope with COVID-19. In a letter to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on April 7, 2020, the Carswell bargaining unit of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1009 stated that the prison had not been placed on lockdown despite the Bureau of Prisons’ public announcement to the contrary and that inmates continued to play volleyball in the compound or watch television together in a small room.
Medical Care that is ‘uniquely careless’
According to the lawsuit, Carswell Correctional Center, which is the only federal medical facility for incarcerated federal female inmates in the country, was found to have provided Circle Bear with negligent and insufficient medical care.
While many prisons have insufficient medical care, Rosenfeld said, Carswell’s conditions “seemed to be uniquely careless and scary.”
Circle According to the lawsuit, Bear was not seen by a doctor until her fourth day in prison, despite the fact that she was 7 and a half months pregnant at the time of her arrest. On March 26, she began experiencing symptoms such as a dry cough, shortness of breath, and muscle aches. Despite the fact that she was experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, she did not visit a doctor until two days later. Even then, according to the claim, she only went to the prison’s doctor because she had begun having contractions, not because she was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
According to the claim, a doctor in the prison noticed that she had a temperature but did not do any other tests or examinations. Circle Bear was taken to JPS Hospital for a “full workup” when her fever persisted three hours after being taken there. She was returned to Carswell the same night she was arrested. A JPS physician instructed staff that she needed close supervision for new symptoms and staff should “send her out to the hospital if temp continues to rise or if she develops cough, body aches, or shortness of breath,” according to the claim.
According to the claim, Circle Bear’s condition and cough deteriorated over the next three days as her fever increased. According to the accusation, while prison officials were aware of her illness, they did not transport her to a hospital.
The veterinarian noted that Circle Bear was coughing, producing green/brown mucous, and had a 100.5-degree fever during her visits with her on March 28 and March 31 at the Carswell Animal Hospital. Her temperature had risen to 102 degrees Fahrenheit on the evening of March 30. The claim states that after Circle Bear’s death, Shackelford sent retroactive “corrections” to these notes and claimed she had entered the wrong information and that Circle Bear did not have a severe cough at the time of his death.
Circle Bear had been unwell for five days by the 31st of March. Carswell employees did not check on her baby’s health at any point throughout those days, according to the lawsuit. During that time period, her medical records make no mention of any fetal health monitoring, such as the baby’s heart rate, being performed.
According to Bureau of Prisons data, seven additional women have died from COVID-19 while in prison at the facility.
‘IF ONLY I COULD GET TO SEE HER!’
When LeBeau spoke to her granddaughter over the phone on March 26, Circle Bear stated that she had informed Carswell employees that she was ill, but that they had refused to listen, according to LeBeau.
The conversation with her granddaughter was the last she had with her.
When Circle Bear was admitted to JPS on March 31, her breathing had deteriorated to the point where she needed to be placed on a ventilator. Her daughter was born the following day after an emergency C-section.
When a doctor called her to tell her the news, LeBeau quickly left South Dakota for Texas, driving through the day and into the night to reach her destination. She and Circle Bear had previously prepared for LeBeau to take the child when she was born. When LeBeau arrived at the hospital, she was given permission to visit with her great-granddaughter. But physicians will not allow her to see Circle Bear because of BOP regulations.
“I figured if only I could go see her…” LeBeau said. They wanted me to watch all of these movies and take care of the baby, and I thought to myself, ‘If only I could see her.’
LeBeau was compelled to leave Texas without seeing her granddaughter for a period of months. She and the child returned to their home state of South Dakota. Circle Bear was kept alive by a ventilator for three and a half weeks before succumbing to her injuries on April 28.
Violating the rules of the game
Circle Bear should not have been transferred in the first place, according to Rosenfeld, because of the BOP’s own policies. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) declared on March 13 that it will restrict movement within the prison system, with only “local medical trips” permitted to continue as needed. On March 13, the Bureau of Prisons was directed by the Inspector General’s Office to stop accepting new intakes from the United States Marshals Service. Despite this, Circle Bear’s transfer was not terminated.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit, the U.S. Marshals Service was also aware that Circle Bear was carrying a high-risk pregnancy. Between March 4 and 6, U.S. Marshals Service staff discussed delaying the transfer of Circle Bear and another pregnant inmate in an email exchange between the two organizations. One employee noted, “You could wait until they have the babies.”
Another employee replied and said, “We do NOT want to wait until they have their babies.”
Rosenfeld stated that neither the Bureau of Prisons nor the United States Marshals Services had provided any explanation as to why Circle Bear’s transport was allowed to continue despite the hazardous conditions.
According to the claim, Circle Bear also arrived at Carswell without her medical records because the U.S. Marshals Service had failed to bring them with her.
“It certainly seems like if you’re going to undertake this incredibly dangerous procedure of transporting a very pregnant person at this exploding point of a pandemic, the least you can do is bring their medical records,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s evidence of the carelessness in every aspect of what happened here.”
Circle Bear’s Daughter
Keep in mind that her sentence of 26 months would have been completed by now, it is quite probable that Bear would have returned to South Dakota, where her grandmother had been setting up funds to assist Bear with rent payments. LeBeau had intended to assist her in obtaining employment and establishing a residence.
“She was looking forward to that,” LeBeau said.
LeBeau is the grandmother of Elcyiah, who is now two years old, and the oldest daughter of Circle Bear. Whatever she does for them, she is concerned that she will never be able to match the love that a mother provides for her children.
Elcyiah has begun to walk and talk and is “getting involved in a variety of activities,” according to LeBeau.
LeBeau recalled that when Circle Bear was younger, she looked forward to her weekend travels to see her grandma. At their grandmother’s house, Circle Bear and her brothers, who lived in Pierre, South Dakota, would ride dirt bikes and jump on the trampoline to keep themselves entertained. When she grew up, Circle Bear enjoyed basketball and baking as hobbies. LeBeau believes she was skilled enough that she could have made a living from her baked products. Circle Bear attempted to enroll in college courses, but the demands of being a full-time mother, student, and employee proved too much. She dropped out of school and devoted her time to caring for her four sons and one daughter instead.
In 2015, Circle Bear’s sister passed away while still in captivity and when she was pregnant. Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 when she died in a South Dakota prison from an overdose of methamphetamine, according to an article in Indian Country Today. Hours before she died, Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s fellow inmates drafted and signed a letter to prison officials, expressing their concern for her well-being and urging them to take action.