Barbara Dawson was just steps away from the entrance to Calhoun Liberty Hospital when she collapsed.
Earlier Monday morning, staff had called police to escort Dawson out of the hospital, according the Tallahassee Democrat, because she refused to leave after doctors had cleared her for release. Insisting that she still suffered from the pains that had brought her there in the first place, Dawson pleaded for an oxygen tank, asked the officer not to take her to jail.
She was arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing, handcuffed and walked to a squad car. That’s when she fell to the ground. The officer uncuffed her and hospital staff wheeled her back into the hospital, though her vital signs looked good.
Less than two hours later, Dawson was dead.
An autopsy on Dawson has been performed and the results will be released Wednesday, Blountstown, Fla., police chief Mark Mallory told the Associated Press. But Dawson’s family and leaders of the Florida chapter of the NAACP say that Dawson died because police and hospital staff were negligent.
“They didn’t do what they could,” Dawson’s aunt Angela Donar told Florida CBS affiliate WCTV as she wiped away tears. “… I told them, ‘Y’all done killed her.'”
Hospital officials said doctors did their best to save Dawson, a 57-year-old who had long suffered from breathing problems.
“Our staff was very aggressive with her treatment,” Ruth Attaway, Calhoun Liberty Hospital’s administrator and CEO , told the Tallahassee Democrat. “They did everything they could.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been called in to investigate the incident. Meanwhile, Tallahassee attorney Daryl Parks, who is representing Dawson’s family, said they plan to file a lawsuit against the hospital, the Blountstown Police Department, or both.
“The most reasonable thing to do is to let her sit there and be able to settle down until she felt well. Instead, she is forcibly removed and put in cuffs,” Parks told the Associated Press. “The early facts of this case should cause a great concern for everyone.”
Dawson showed up at Calhoun Liberty around 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night, according to police, seeking treatment for stomach pains. She was a familiar sight at the small, 25-bed facility, where she often came with her numerous health complaints.
Some of those visits, too, had ended in conflict — Donar told the Democrat that staff at Calhoun Liberty had called the police on Dawson before, and once kicked her off the premises when she brought a friend in for treatment.
This time, Dawson was treated and cleared for release early Monday morning, Mallory told the Democrat. But Dawson refused to leave, “causing a disturbance in the hospital with her language and the volume of her voice,” he said, so police were called.
Donar told WCTV that hospital staff unhooked Dawson from her oxygen tank before the officer escorted her out. When Donar objected, saying her niece still needed the breathing help, Donar says she was told, “She’s fine, she’s fine.”
When Dawson collapsed in front of the squad car, the officer quickly uncuffed her and called for medical help. Staff checked her breathing, her pulse — they all looked fine. But a doctor decided to wheel her back into the facility anyway.
“We were told by a doctor once she got back in the hospital that her vital signs were good and it was their decision to readmit her,” Mallory told the Associated Press.
But Donar, who was at the scene, challenged that account. She told the Democrat that a doctor couldn’t detect Dawson’s pulse before she was wheeled back into the hospital.
At 6:24 a.m., less than two hours after the police had initially been summoned, Dawson died. It is not clear what she died from or how her condition deteriorated so quickly.
A dashboard camera in the officer’s car didn’t capture the incident, but it did pick up audio, according to Mallory. That video, along with a police report, will be released before Christmas, according to the Democrat.
The local chapter of the NAACP held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to address Dawson’s death.
“Those that were responsible for her death … need to be held accountable in a court of law,” Dale Landry, president of the Tallahassee branch of the Florida NAACP, told WCTV after the meeting. “Because here we have an innocent person taken into custody and now they’ve lost their life when all they did was come and ask for medical help.”