Barbara Dawson, a 57-year-old African American woman, died Monday in a Florida hospital after being forcibly removed from the facility by police. The Calhoun Liberty Hospital in Blountstown had admitted Dawson on Sunday at about 10:30 p.m. after she was rushed to the emergency room by ambulance with complaints of stomach pain.
Hours after being treated, Dawson was cleared by the medical staff and discharged, despite telling staff members she “still was not feeling well.” Dawson’s family said the nursing staff “banned” her from the hospital. The hospital staff called the Blountstown police in the early hours of Monday morning and told them “[Dawson] was causing a disturbance in the hospital with her language and the volume of her voice,” according to Police Chief Mark Mallory. Mallory further said the arresting officer, who handcuffed Dawson and escorted her out of the hospital, was polite to Dawson, telling her “she was free to get medical care, but she had to seek treatment elsewhere.”
According to Dawson’s relatives, Dawson was still having difficulty breathing, and she requested that the hospital staff return her oxygen tank. The nurse was said to have told Dawson that “she was breathing fine and did not need it.” Apparently, while outside the hospital, Dawson again “pleaded for her oxygen” and asked the police officer not to take her to jail. As the officer unlocked his patrol car, Dawson collapsed. The officer immediately uncuffed her and called for medical care:
“Hospital staff checked her pulse, oxygen and vital signs three times and told the officer she was fine. However, a doctor readmitted her inside the hospital…As they wheeled her into the hospital, Dawson still had a pulse, Mallory said. But by 6:24 a.m., less than two hours later, she was dead.”
An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday, and the police department has launched an investigation. Dawson’s aunt Angela Donar, who was at the hospital, disputes the police department’s version of events. Donar said “a doctor couldn’t detect a pulse from her niece before she was taken into the hospital…and hospital staff did not attempt CPR until Dawson was back inside the hospital.” The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that “photos of the scene taken by a family member show Dawson sitting on the ground and leaning against the police car surrounded by hospital staff and the police officer.”
Hospital administrator Ruth Attaway said: “They did their best trying to save her…Our staff was very aggressive with her treatment. They did everything they could.”
Dawson apparently has a long history with Calhoun Liberty Hospital, a small, not-for-profit, critical-access facility serving the rural residents of Liberty and Calhoun counties in Florida, having visited 22 times since 1987. According to Donar, prior hospital complaints to police about her niece criticize behaviors that many health-conscious patients would share:
“If they bring her some medicine, she wants to know what it is, what it is for. They just get mad at her…If she don’t think it’s right, she’s going to tell them and they don’t like that.”
The family has hired attorney Darryl Parks, whose firm has represented other high-profile black family tragedies – Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s families. Parks is starting his own investigation of the facts. It appears the patrol car’s dash-cam video camera was conveniently off at time of Dawson’s arrest, though there is some audio content that has not yet been released.
Parks noted: “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…The early facts of this case should cause a great concern for everyone…but also grave concern for the public.” This sentiment is also echoed by Dale R. Landry, regional vice president for the Florida State chapter of the NAACP “we strongly believe the death was due to negligence by the police department and hospital.”
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.