Cheree Byrd, 35, gave birth to an infant at the Onondaga County jail after carrying the infant for just 23 weeks. The infant was later pronounced dead at an area hospital. Credit: Provided by Renee Speed

For at least two days, women detained inside the Onondaga County jail heard the cries of a 35-year-old inmate, who deputies said gave birth to an extremely premature infant early in the morning of Aug. 2.

“My baby’s coming out,’” the woman could be heard saying in her cell, “My baby’s coming out.”

Three women who were incarcerated with the pregnant woman said they heard her repeatedly ask for help. The woman warned jail deputies and nurses she was in labor or about to go into labor, the inmates and the woman’s mother told Central Current. 

The infant was pronounced dead in the hours after the birth, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office said.

The woman who gave birth was identified by her mother as Cheree Byrd. Nurses gave Byrd tampons and Tylenol in response to her pleas, according to Byrd’s mother.

Tanique Jackson, 36, another woman held at the jail, said she saw nurses give Byrd tampons and do little else to help her. Jackson worked as a porter at the jail and had to interact with Byrd, she said.

She said she saw Byrd smear a tampon on a window to show deputies that she was not OK.

“She was trying to get them to really see, she’s like, ‘I’m bleeding, something is wrong,’” Jackson said. “They didn’t give a f—. They didn’t send her out. None of that.” 

Byrd eventually gave birth to the infant in her cell just before 5 a.m. on Aug. 2. She’d carried the infant for 23 weeks, deputies said. The infant was pronounced dead at Crouse Hospital shortly after. 

In the two weeks since, the sheriff’s office began an investigation into the infant’s death, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office said it was looking into whether it should open its own investigation.

Byrd’s mother told Central Current she drove her daughter to a New Jersey mental health facility after she was released. Byrd has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which were exacerbated by her infant’s death, her mother said.

Court records show Byrd had been held at the Syracuse jail since July 1 on a petit larceny warrant. Lawyers told Byrd’s mother the charge stemmed from $60 and $100 thefts and that the charges will be dropped, she said.

The morning Byrd’s baby was born, Jackson, the jail porter, recalled hearing Byrd call out, “I just had my baby.”

Soon after, a deputy, a nurse and EMTs arrived. 

Jackson, who said she had a 27-day-old child die 16 years ago, said she was assigned to clean Byrd’s cell. Deputies gave her two trash bags to throw away the mattress and rags, and Clorox to wipe down the blood-soaked cell, she said.

That same morning at 6:30, Renee Speed, Byrd’s mother saw her phone light up with a Syracuse area code.

Byrd’s voice came through. She said she had a baby girl and named her Ayanna. Then she told Speed how she’d given birth in her jail cell and the baby died.

Speed was in such disbelief she made her daughter put a nurse on the phone to confirm the account.

That day, Speed drove to Syracuse and picked up Byrd, who has been in a mental health facility since. The family decided not to hold a service for the infant because Byrd cannot handle the stress right now.

“They need to get her stable before she can start her grieving process about her child,” Speed said. “This took her to a whole other level.” 

Speed said she believes her daughter’s mental health diagnoses led to a lack of treatment before the birth.

When Byrd was arrested in July, Speed called the jail, she said. She said she told them Byrd had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder around the time she was 12.

She also told medical personnel at the jail that Byrd’s 16-year-old daughter, who Speed raises, had been born premature, she said. Premature births run in their family, Speed said.

Cheree Byrd’s 16-year-old daughter, Emeree (center), was also born premature, according to Speed. Speed said she tried to tell deputies Cheree Byrd had a history of premature pregnancies in her family. From left to right: Renee Speed, Cheree Byrd’s mother; Emeree Byrd, Byrd’s 16-year-old daughter; and Chardae Watley, Byrd’s sister. Credit: Photo provided by Renee Speed

The situation has left Speed with a number of questions, she said. Speed would like to know why Byrd wasn’t moved to a specialized mental health facility such as St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program for care. The mother wants to know why her daughter was held at the jail for more than a month on a petit larceny warrant.

Most of all, she wonders how Speed didn’t get help sooner when others heard her pleas for care.

“Somebody has to be accountable for this,” Speed said. “You can’t just ignore a person’s cry for help.”

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Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.