The family of Andrea Circle Bear, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has filed an administrative claim against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and the U.S. Marshals Service for her wrongful death. Ms. Circle Bear died in federal custody in Texas of complications from COVID-19 on April 28, 2020, four weeks after giving birth to her daughter. At the time of her death, Ms. Circle Bear she was serving a 26-month federal sentence for a non-violent conviction.
On March 20, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded around the nation and one week after the BOP had suspended all prisoner transfers that were not “required” or “mission-essential,” the federal government needlessly transferred Ms. Circle Bear, then seven months pregnant, over 800 miles from South Dakota to the FMC Carswell women’s prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
During the transfer and while at FMC Carswell, Ms. Circle Bear was confined in overcrowded and unsafe conditions that were ripe for COVID-19 transmission. The Marshals Service transported Ms. Circle Bear on a small plane with at least six other people and no masking, social distancing, pre-flight COVID testing, or any other safety measures. When she arrived at FMC Carswell, BOP housed her on the bottom bunk bed of a small cell with three other women with no masks or other PPE, one shared toilet and sink, and no soap.
Ms. Circle Bear first developed COVID-19 symptoms on March 26, 2020, six days after the transfer. BOP staff failed to provide her with prompt or adequate care for several days as her symptoms intensified. She was almost immediately intubated when BOP finally sent her to the hospital on March 31. Her daughter was born the next day by emergency c-section while Ms. Circle Bear was on a ventilator. Ms. Circle Bear died four weeks later without ever getting off the ventilator to meet her daughter.
The BOP and the U.S. Marshals Service’s indifference and recklessness in exposing Ms. Circle Bear to COVID-19 and failing to provide her adequate medical care caused her death and left her children motherless.
The BOP and U.S. Marshals Service must respond to the administrative claim within six months. If the claim is denied, Ms. Circle Bear’s family may proceed with filing a lawsuit.