Savannah Shukla, a young mother from Columbus, Georgia, was shopping for groceries at Piggly-Wiggly when her 1-month old started to get hungry. Knowing that a Georgia state law protects the rights of breastfeeding mothers, Savannah began breastfeeding her child in the store. Moments later she was approached by a Sheriff’s deputy who threatened to arrest her for indecent exposure. Savannah tried to defend herself, but the officer said there was no such law giving her the right to breastfeed in public. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
According to Georgia Health Code – Title 31, Section 31-1-9 “The breast-feeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which should be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health. A mother may breast-feed her baby in any location where the mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be.”
As Savannah struggled to stand her ground against the incompetent officer, a shopper overheard the confrontation. April, a Paralegal and fellow mother, took a photograph of the incident. After Savannah fled to the parking lot in tears, the furious witness confronted the officer and asked his name. April then approached Savannah and encouraged her to share her story with the public and to hold the officer accountable.
April offered to share her version of the story as well and Savannah agreed. In a post to Facebook, April Shared her photograph of Savannah and wrote,
This is Savannah – I met her about twenty minutes ago when I ran to the store to get my son some ice cream.
This is the deputy arguing with Savannah about breastfeeding her infant while she’s in the grocery store with her other child telling her that it’s indecent exposure because he felt it necessary to step up out of his way to stop a woan feeding her child and tell her that even though the baby is hungry she should cover up.
See the thing is, Savannah was quite covered – you can see from the picture she’s wearing a maternity bra and a dress that does not expose herself. All she was doing was feeding a hungry baby while trying to do some shopping.
I told the deputy I have no problem with her feeding her infant and asked his name, which is Deputy Zipata – and followed her out of the store because at this point she is crying and hyperventilating from the confrontation and told her that I had taken the photo and gotten his name for her and told her that I was so very sorry to witness what had happened to her. We introduced ourselves and I told her I was considering posting it online because I had heard of women being told to stop breastfeeding but I had never witnessed it in real life. I was so angry I was shaking, she was so upset she was having trouble gathering herself – but she asked me to go ahead and post what I had witnessed and the photo.”
Savannah wrote about her horrible experience on Facebook as well,
Tonight while in Piggly Wiggly with my sister and both my children (the oldest 20mos and the youngest 1month old today) while nursing a Deputy approached me right when I was about to leave and informed that I needed to cover up because someone might find it ‘offensive.’
I repeated the law back to him stating that Georgia state law says I can breastfeed however most comfortable wherever I want as long as I’m authorized to be there.
He then grows flustered and says ‘No ma’am that’s not the case.’ And I said ‘No I know what the law says’ for him to say: ‘You just THINK you know what the law says and if your nipple becomes exposed I really don’t want to have to arrest you or you be arrested for being offensive. This isn’t like the first amendment where you can say something offensive.’
I then repeated what the GA state law says and told him if someone finds this offensive something is wrong with them.
For him to tell me once again that I just ‘think’ I know the law.
He also pointed out how he could ‘already see my areola’ and that if someone saw my nipple (even if I were trying to cover up) that he would have to arrest me and that he ‘really didn’t want to arrest me.’ For him to see my areola he would’ve had to have been staring VERY hard.
I finally got mad enough and walked away telling him I know my right to have a good night. And went to the car and boohooed and I’m still boohooing about it.
I’d like to thank April the Paralegal for defending me, taking this picture and getting his name for me.
I’m so upset about it and I understand why this type of harassment can cause moms to stop.
I WILL be reporting this to whoever his higher ups are tomorrow morning because if he did it to me he will do it to someone else. And who knows who else he’s done it too.”
Savannah’s story quickly went viral. It wasn’t long after she filed an official complaint that she was approached by Muscogee County Sheriff John T. Darr. He apologized to Savannah in person before releasing the following statements to Facebook.
I have seen and am aware of a post circulating Facebook, regarding a situation between a Muscogee County deputy and a woman attempting to breastfeed her young child. My wife and I have four children, each of whom were breastfed, and two of my daughters now have small children of their own. Therefore, I fully understand and appreciate the right of a woman to feed her child wherever she is most comfortable. It is also the law in the state of Georgia. We are currently looking into this incident and it will be addressed. Our office does not condone these actions and will ensure all officers know and understand the law. On behalf of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, I would like to personally extend an apology to the woman involved, and we hope that she knows that these are not the opinions or practices of the office as a whole.”
Later that day he released a second statement,
Earlier this afternoon, I was able to meet with Savannah at the office, in reference to the breastfeeding incident at Piggly Wiggly. I reiterated my personal stance on breastfeeding, as a father and grandfather. My children were all breastfed and I would never condone a law enforcement officer telling my wife that she should stop feeding our child or face arrest. This is a very serious complaint that I am very concerned about. Savannah has filed a formal complaint, which has been forwarded to the Office of Professional Standards. At the current point in time, this investigation is ongoing and the action to be taken shall be determined at the conclusion of the investigation. However, regardless of the outcome, we would like to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again in the future. We have sent out a reminder to all of our deputies, that in accordance with Georgia law, a woman has a legal right to breastfeed wherever she needs to, without having to cover up. Additional training shall follow. I thank you all for your patience during this time. And again, should you have any questions or concerns, I encourage you to reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my cell phone at 706-325-3035″