MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – Jessica Preston said it was the most terrifying day of her life when she was forced to give birth to her son on the floor of a cell at the Macomb County Jail.
It's a personal story that's hard for her to tell, but she spoke about what happened with Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz in the hope that nobody ever has to go through what happened to her.
Preston adores her baby boy, Elijha, but she had been keeping the details of his birth a secret out of embarrassment. Now, she can't keep it quiet anymore.
READ ORIGINAL STORY ON WDIV: Woman forced to deliver baby at Macomb County Jail
"I wouldn't want that happening to my worst enemy, anybody else, and that's why I am telling this story," Preston said. "I would never want it happening to anyone ever again."
Elijha was born on a dirty floor mat in a cell at the Macomb County Jail. It was a dangerous delivery that never would have happened if jail medical staff members would have taken Preston to the hospital. Preston told the staff three times that she was having her baby, but they didn't believe her and made her go back to her cell.
The birth of her son is on video, and Preston talked throughout it. It was a bold decision on her part, to bring attention to what she said was a lack of human dignity at the Macomb County Jail.
"When I was on the floor, like, 'Please don't let me have this baby in here. Please just call an ambulance,'" Preston said.
"I pushed him out right on the floor. At this point, I was just in complete shock. I could not believe that it had just happened that way."
Dr. Frank McGeorge, a qualified court expert on in-custody jail medical cases, talked about what could have gone wrong for Preston and her baby.
"Having a baby in a dirty, nasty place is just not a good thing, because it opens the risk to infections, whether it's the baby or it's the mother," McGeorge said.
Elijha was born a month early and weighed less than 5 pounds.
"When a baby is born very small, there's always the risk that there could be some difficult breathing. Maybe the baby has some kind of congenital problem, and that's why they're small," McGeorge said. "We don't know."
"At this point, (I was) terribly concerned, and just wanting to get to the hospital so that I can make sure I can be physically checked by a real doctor," Preston said. "You know, that I'm OK."
Preston said she could hear her son crying.
"You know, he was small, under 5 pounds, 17 inches long," she said.
The story began a few days earlier in Warren. Preston was pulled over because she had a rosary hanging from her rearview mirror. The officer said the cross and beads were an obstruction of view.
"I wasn't speeding," Preston said. "I wasn't driving recklessly."
But Preston was driving on a suspended license. At eight months pregnant, she was arrested and sent to see a judge.
"She gave me a very high bond, even though it was my first driving on a suspended (license)," Preston said. "A very high bond."
Preston had to pay a $10,000 cash bond or sit in jail for 14 days while her hearing was set. On her fifth day in jail, the baby came.
"About 7:30 (a.m.), you know, you press the little button (and) it buzzes their tower," Preston said. "I told the deputies, I said, 'I'm the one that's eight months pregnant in here, and I think I'm in labor and I need to go down to medical.'"
Surveillance video shows Preston walk to the medical area, where she saw a nurse. There's no audio on the video, but Preston said the medical staff didn't believe her.
"(They said), 'We don't believe you," Preston said. "'We think you're lying and you're not in labor. We'd be able to tell. There are certain things that are more apparent, so go back to your cell.'"
Video shows Preston leaving the medical area and going back to D block, where she said other inmates were worried.
"One of them got a cool washcloth for my forehead, was dabbing my forehead," Preston said. "One of them was actually previously a registered nurse, so actually, she was rubbing my back during the contractions."
Preston said she hit the buzzer again around 11:30. Video shows her walk to the medical area again.
"This time, they were very rude when they told me they didn't believe me and I was called a liar and told to knock my crap off or they could put another charge on me," Preston said.
Preston returned to her cell, but 90 minutes later she was back with blood running down her leg. The deputy had her pack up and made her carry her belongings to a cell next to the medical area.
Video shows Preston lying down, but not for long. She yelled for help, and when the nurse arrived, the baby was crowning.
It was too late for an ambulance to come, so Elijha was born on the jail cell floor.
"He's beautiful and amazing, and I wouldn't trade him for the world, but it is a constant reminder every time I see him, I can remember how awful it was to feel that way, to be treated like you don't matter, don't exist," Preston said.
In total, Preston asked the medical staff for help three times, but nobody believed her.
"I don't know how you can ignore something like that," Preston said. "To me, when I came to them bleeding, that should have been the real (sign). I mean, I should have gone first thing in the morning. But when I come to you bleeding, eight months pregnant and bleeding, you go to the hospital."
Macomb County Jail's history
The Macomb County Jail has been the focus of a two-year Defenders investigation. On July 7, 2013, 37-year-old mother Jennifer Meyers died in the jail after being sentenced to spend 30 days behind bars for not paying child support. The staff wouldn't take Meyers to the hospital even though cellmates were trying to cool her fever with wet cloths and begged medical staff members to help. After 12 days, Meyers died of sepsis.
"I could feel her dying, and there was nothing I could do," a family member said.
More on Meyers' case:
- Young mother dies during 30-day sentence in Macomb County Jail
- Woman dies in Macomb County Jail after not having $500 to pay court
- Parents heartbroken over daughter's death in Macomb County Jail
- Parents of woman who died in Macomb County Jail warn of drug addiction
Eleven months later, on June 27, 2014, David Stojcevski died inside the Macomb County Jail. Stojcevski was behind bars to serve a 30-day sentence for failing to appear in court on a traffic ticket for careless driving. He lost nearly 50 pounds in 17 days and died from withdrawal from doctor-prescribed medication. His last 10 days are on video, as jail and medical staff members watched him twitch and seize naked on the cell floor until his body was too weak to take another breath.
"Why don't you call 911 to help him? Why (did) you let him die on the floor, cold, sweaty, asking for help and you guys don't care," Stojcevski's family said.
More on Stojcevski's case:
- FBI investigating Macomb County Jail inmate's death
- Man jailed for ticket dies in custody
- DOJ: Macomb County Jail inmate death case lacks sufficient evidence for criminal charges
- Sheriff responds to Macomb County Jail death
Two deaths and a baby born behind bars would make anybody angry. Sheriff Tony Wickersham is in charge of the Macomb County Jail. He's not commenting Monday, but after the Stojcevski death, he went public and said the privately hired medical staff makes the decisions. He said his deputies only follow their lead.
"We have not identified any prosecutable violations of federal criminal law, therefore our investigation is closed," Wickersham said.
Preston's first baby was born via an emergency cesarean section. For the mother's safety, Elijha was going to be born via a cesarean section, too. But since the birth happened behind bars, that didn't happen, and he was born prematurely.