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Woman who went into labor at Cook County Jail remains free on bond

Karen Padilla Garcia and her infant daugther, Anayah, at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Aug. 14. When Anayah was born three weeks ago, Padilla had to be rushed to Stroger Hospital from the Cook County Jail, where a judge had ordered her held— without bond — for violating her probation for a two-year-old theft charge. If prosecutors and the Cook County Sheriff hadn't intervened after the delivery, Padilla would have been stuck in jail without her daughter for another month. | Andy Grimm

A 26-year-old woman who went into labor at the Cook County Jail last month will remain free on bond after a contentious court hearing Monday.

Karen Padilla Garcia bounced and swayed as she stood in front of Judge Nicholas Ford, trying to soothe the infant girl strapped to her chest.

Three weeks ago, Garcia was rushed to Stroger Hospital from the jail, where Ford had ordered her held without bail as she waited for a hearing on a probation violation for a 2015 theft conviction.

Concerned officials at the jail who alerted the State’s Attorney’s Office noted that Garcia had no violent history — she’d pleaded guilty to stealing cash from the register of a South Loop restaurant where she worked— and managed to arrange for Garcia to be granted bond so she could return home with her newborn last month.

On Monday, Garcia and her assistant public defender were largely silent during the half-hour hearing— though 3-week-old Anayah occasionally cooed or cried— as a top deputy to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did most of the fighting to keep her out of jail.

Ford had ordered Garcia locked up because she had missed court dates and meetings with her probation officer, gotten multiple traffic tickets, and failed to pay back $1,500 to her former boss.

Had the sheriff and prosecutors not intervened, she would have been returned to the jail from Stroger and waited another month without bond before her next hearing.

“You cannot incarcerate people for— it’s not a debtor’s prison we’re running here, your honor,” barked First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman in one heated exchange with Ford.

“This woman, she gave birth in prison, she could not afford to pay (back her victim).”

Although Garcia went into labor in jail, she delivered her daughter at Stroger.

Ford, who at one point threatened to hold Sussman in contempt of court for interrupting, ultimately let Garcia go on her own recognizance, but not before repeatedly chastising her for her repeated failures to show up at court, and for racking up traffic tickets while on probation for driving without a license or probation.

More ominously, the judge noted that Garcia’s story had been featured in a news story on ABC 7 Chicago over the weekend— and that she appeared to be driving a car in some of the footage. Ford attempted to order Sussman to subpoena video from ABC 7 Chicago to determine whether Garcia had again gotten behind the wheel.

“I watched you violate my probation on TV,” Ford said.

After the hearing, Garcia said she missed a court hearing because notices had been sent to an address where she no longer lived, then stopped meeting with her probation officer because she was told there was a warrant for her arrest. She was arrested in June – 18 months after the warrant was issued, when she was pulled over for a traffic stop.

“My baby came a month early, I think, because of the stress,” she said.

Cara Smith, director of policy for Sheriff Tom Dart, said Garcia’s situation is an example of how the Cook County justice system needs reform. Dart endorsed getting rid of cash bail and frequently complains that the jail is filled with poor, non-violent defendants who are stuck because they can’t pay fines or raise money to post bond.

“When I saw she was pregnant but had been ordered held without bond, I thought, ‘She must have killed someone,’” Smith said. “But it was a probation violation. For theft. For someone with no arrests for a violent offense.”