The woman who was arrested while nine months pregnant and later gave birth while in sheriff’s office custody was found innocent Friday on one of the charges for which she was initially arrested.
Juana Villegas was found innocent of careless driving in the Berry Hill Municipal Court because her arresting officer checked the wrong information on her citation.
Villegas was found guilty of driving without insurance, which carries with it a $10 fine plus court costs.
Elliot Ozment, Villegas’ attorney, championed the ruling, but condemned his client’s treatment during her arrest.
Ozment said Villegas and her children were treated disrespectfully by Berry Hill Police Sergeant Tim Coleman on the day of her arrest. Ozment said Villegas, who was nine months pregnant, and her three children were forced to sit in their truck on a hot July day for about 30 minutes.
Ozment also stated that it was his belief Villegas was treated poorly while in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff’s office following her arrest on July 3. Villegas was in custody for six days and went into labor during that time. She gave birth to her fourth child and was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor.
The shackles were removed two hours before Villegas gave birth, according to the sheriff’s office, but Villegas was separated from her child for hours after the birth.
While Villegas was in custody, it was determined she was an illegal immigrant through the implementation of the sheriff’s office new 287(g) program, which checks the immigration status of an individual once they are in custody. Ozment said he had no comment on potential immigration Villegas could face.
“I think the arrest in this case, which was not an issue in this particular hearing, was inhumane,” Ozment said. “And her treatment following the arrest by the sheriff of Davidson County was also inhumane. And we’ll be taking those issues up at the appropriate time.”
During Coleman’s testimony, he described a scene in which Villegas, who does not speak fluent English, cried, “No illegal,” when he asked her to show him a driver’s license.
Villegas presented a Mexican identification card, but didn’t have insurance. Coleman said Villegas and her three children, ages 14, 11 and 2, cried together during the arrest.
Dan Alexander, the attorney for Berry Hill, objected during the trial when Ozment attempted to question Coleman on his treatment of Villegas and her children during the arrest. The objections were sustained by Judge Cantrell.
“Those are facts that we had hoped to bring out,” Ozment said. “And I think I’ll save any comment about that until those facts are able to be presented in a court of law.
“But it is my understanding that she and the children were crying. They were seated in a hot car whose motor had been cut off for 40 minutes, with one child that was especially active. I think evidence will show that this officer in the final analysis showed a total lack of respect to her and her children.”
Coleman, who ran for Metro School board earlier this month and lost, left the city offices before he could be reached for comment.
During the trial, it was revealed that Coleman checked the wrong box on the citation as to the exact location of the traffic violation, so that charge was dismissed. In addition, he said during the trial that his in-car camera was broken on the day of Villegas' arrest.
Gregg Ramos, former president of the Nashville Bar Association and a vocal critic of 287(g), said the innocent verdict for Villegas highlights a weakness of the program, because an individual can be innocent but still face deportation.
“I think this highlights the problem,” Ramos said. “It doesn’t seem to matter that the charge stands up in court or not. She still was subjected to horrible abuse and horrible treatment and still faces potential penalty down the road.
“But more importantly here, I think is the terrible treatment that she received in Sheriff Daron Hall’s jail.”