CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Charlotte mom says she broke no laws, but deputies at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse made her feel like she did when they ordered her to leave the courtroom for breastfeeding.
"I was terrified that I was going to be arrested," said Laura Ruble. "I certainly did not want to be in contempt of court, but I knew that what I was doing was legal."
Ruble was in court as an observer for her graduate work. She brought her 23-month-old daughter Mae with her. Since court proceedings started later than scheduled, she says she worried that her daughter might cranky for missing her nap. So she decided to nurse Mae to sleep; however, she says she quickly went from legal observer to having to defend herself.
"I felt like all eyes were on me and I felt like it was undue attention for something that is very natural, very normal," she said.
Ruble says she has never been uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. When a deputy first approached her, she says it didn't even cross her mind that breastfeeding Mae might be why.
"I thought maybe it was the drink beside me, so put my drink in my bag and that seemed to frustrate him more and he said, 'no, you can't do that in here,'" she recalled. "He kinda waved his hands over his chest and said ' you're exposing yourself.'"
She says she stood her ground and refused to leave the courtroom. She also reminded deputies of her rights. According to NC state law, women may breastfeed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, with or without a cover to hide her nipples. Ruble says even after explaining her rights, more deputies arrived and insisted she use a private room for breastfeeding mothers.
"That was really intimidating, seemed also very angry that I didn't want to leave the courtroom, she said. "Was left feeling embarrassed about something I am not embarrassed about, intimidated and just genuinely harassed."
A feeling she says she doesn't want other mothers to experience. Ruble started a petition to bring awareness and encourage retraining of deputies working in the courthouse.
She did receive an apology from a supervising officer, but she says it sure didn't feel like one.
"It was very much along the vein of, 'we are sorry you feel this way about what happened to you,' and there was no acknowledgement that anything wrong had happened," she said.
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department released this statement regarding the incident:
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) takes very seriously the investigation of any complaint that is received by this Office. The MCSO will conduct a thorough investigation regarding the allegations that have been made by Ms. Ruble, to include contacting her by phone for follow-up, which follows MCSO policy regarding the receipt of citizen complaints. The MCSO strives to provide outstanding public service with integrity and any violation of Sheriff’s Office policy that is discovered in the course of any investigation will be handled pursuant to that policy. The MCSO recognizes that this Office works for the citizens of Mecklenburg County and that this process is essential for maintaining public trust.
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