A woman jailed in Etowah County for alleged drug use while pregnant has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office saying she was not pregnant and investigators put a child’s words ahead of medical confirmation.
Stacey Freeman of Gallant was investigated by human resources for drug use after one of her children told a social worker their mother was pregnant, the lawsuit says. Freeman offered to take a pregnancy test, and Etowah County Department of Human Resources officials ordered one. She never took the test, however, and Etowah County Sheriff Investigation Brandi Fuller issued a warrant for her arrest, according to the lawsuit.
Freeman was arrested for chemical endangerment of a child and was taken to the Etowah County Detention Center on February 1. Her mug shot was circulated and can still be found online. She was released about 36 hours after her arrest and the charges were dropped, but her lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said the ordeal was embarrassing and traumatic for his client.
“It’s just embarrassing that you can hide the word from someone that someone is pregnant,” Weinberg said. “It’s easy to prove with a pregnancy test.”
The lawsuit names Fuller and Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton. At the time of her arrest, Freeman was facing standard Etowah County chemical hazard bail conditions, which required her to post $10,000 in cash and attend rehab. County officials ended the practice in most cases in September, according to reports in AL.com.
Fuller and Horton have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that Freeman was on her menstrual cycle at the time of her arrest and could not get feminine hygiene products while she was in prison. It also said that after her release, Fuller warned Freeman not to become pregnant or face additional charges.
Fuller was involved in “an obscene number of arrests of pregnant and postpartum women,” according to the lawsuit. Research by Pregnancy Justice (formerly known as National Advocates for Pregnant Women) found that Etowah County arrested and prosecuted more women for drug use during pregnancy than any other county in the state. More than 150 women were identified by their researchers, and Fuller was implicated in most cases, they found.
“The sheriff’s department and its associates were ruthless in investigating the arrests of women on chemical hazards charges and then encouraged their prosecution,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges wrongful imprisonment, defamation and negligence by members of the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department. It said investigators took the word of a minor and failed to confirm the facts before arresting and jailing Freeman. As a result, Freeman suffered public humiliation. Weinberg said she’s still getting questions about the arrest.
“She still lets people stop her and say, ‘Aren’t you accused of drug use while pregnant?'” Weinberg said. “It’s still embarrassing”
Her charges were dropped but not erased, leaving the case available as a public record. The warrant erroneously states that Freeman tested positive for marijuana, amphetamines and alcohol while pregnant.
Etowah County officials have long taken an aggressive stance on prosecuting drug use during pregnancy. Back in 2013, after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the Chemical Hazards Act applies to pregnant women and fetuses, former sheriff Todd Entrekin said his office would work closely with the district attorney and the Department of Human Resources to to bring charges. In September, Etowah County District Attorney Jody Willoughby said his office would continue to pursue criminal charges against women who use drugs during pregnancy after coming under fire for harsh attachment conditions that kept women in prison for months.
“I can assure you that I will continue to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who harm innocent life,” Willoughby said in a statement.
Weinberg said Freeman spent approximately 36 hours in prison before she was released. Though she wasn’t detained for long, he said investigators could have avoided it entirely by using a pregnancy test, which Freeman offered. He said the sheriff’s department has shown a pattern of aggressive enforcement of the state’s Chemical Hazards Act, which makes it illegal to use drugs during pregnancy.
“It’s good that the charges were dropped,” Weinberg said. “But it does hurt to arrest someone and spend two days in jail. Wrongful arrest and malicious arrest are inherently problematic.”