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

The family of an infant who was born at the Onondaga County jail and later died has filed a notice of claim with the county, according to David Henderson, the family’s lawyer.

The claim preserves the family’s right to sue the county. They will have a year to file a lawsuit.

Henderson, from Texas, is representing Cheree Byrd, the woman who gave birth, and her mother Renee Speed. The suit also lists Ayanna Byrd, the infant who died.

The family said after the premature birth that jail deputies ignored Byrd’s pleas for help as she went into labor.

A county spokesman declined to comment on the notice of claim and said the county generally does not comment on pending litigation.

Henderson said the claim includes the following allegations:

  • Wrongful death
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligence
  • Survivorship
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Medical malpractice
  • Civil Rights violations under the 8th amendment, 14th amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Cheree Byrd was jailed in the Onondaga County Justice Center for about a month after she was arrested on a minor larceny charge this summer. She was being held on $500 bail.

Speed said she informed deputies at the time that Byrd had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and was pregnant with a history of premature labor.

Byrd told deputies she believed she was going into labor, according to three women held at the jail with Byrd who were interviewed by Central Current. The incarcerated women with Byrd said she was in distress for at least two days.

“Despite this knowledge, jailers refused to provide medical assistance when Cheree Byrd went into labor on or about July 31, 2022,” the claim said.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office is still deciding whether to investigate the case. The AG’s office only investigates cases in which a deputy or police officer may be deemed responsible for the death.

Three months after the infant’s death, Chief Custody Deputy Esteban Gonzalez said in an interview with Central Current that he could not pin down the details of what happened before Ayanna’s death.

The jail staff did, however, hold a review of the incident, Gonzalez said. Gonzalez could not confirm key details about Byrd’s care, including how many days Byrd was in distress, and whether she was given tampons for bleeding while she was pregnant.

Gonzalez said his previous comments reported by Syracuse.com earlier this month were not accurate: According to the report, Gonzalez said there was a consensus among jail and medical staff that Byrd had not received adequate care.

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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.