RICHMOND HEIGHTS, MO – Officials at a St. Louis hospital on Thursday defended their actions in the case of a homeless woman who sought treatment for a sprained ankle and died in police custody after being arrested for refusing to leave the emergency room.
Anna Brown yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary’s Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn’t stand.
She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.
This time, she refused to leave.
A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.
Brown was 29. A mother who had lost custody of two children. Homeless. On Medicaid. And, an autopsy later revealed, dying from blood clots that started in her legs, then lodged in her lungs.
She told officers she couldn’t get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.
Officers suspected Brown was using drugs. Autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.
Six months later, family members still wonder how Brown’s sprained ankle led to her death in police custody, and whether anyone — including themselves — is to blame.
There seems to be no simple answer.
St. Mary’s officials say they did all they were supposed to do for Brown. Richmond Heights police said they trusted a doctor who said she was fit for jail.
Brown’s mother, Dorothy Davis, isn’t sure what to think.
An autopsy determined that Anna Brown’s death in a jail cell in September was caused by blood clots that formed in her legs and migrated to her lungs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The newspaper also obtained surveillance footage of the woman’s final moments. In the video, officers are seen carrying Brown into a jail cell. The cell door closes and Brown is heard moaning and crying.
Brown’s family says authorities treated the 29-year-old mother of two unfairly and have hired a St. Louis-based lawyer, Keith Link.
St. Mary’s Health Center says its staff followed medical guidelines and performed appropriate tests, acknowledging the “outrage being expressed in this tragic event.”
“Unfortunately, even with appropriate testing using sophisticated technology, blood clots can still be undetected in a small number of cases,” according to a statement released by St. Mary’s Health Center on Thursday. “The sad reality is that emergency departments across the country are often a place of last resort for many people in our society who suffer from complex social problems that become medical issues when they are not addressed. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragic event like this to call attention to a crisis in our midst.”
Police have said officers had no way of knowing Brown’s dire condition.
Brown went to three hospitals complaining of leg pain in the days leading up to her death, including her visit to St. Mary’s that led to her arrest for trespassing. She was wheeled out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.
Brown had been struggling after a series of devastating setbacks, family say.
‘Starting to make progress’
A New Year’s Eve tornado in 2010 destroyed Brown’s home in north St. Louis home, the Post-Dispatch reported. She and her two children moved to Berkeley, a St. Louis suburb, and she lost her job at a sandwich shop soon afterward, the Post-Dispatch said.
According to the Post-Dispatch, her utilities were shut off because she stopped paying her bills, and after a child welfare agent who visited the home in April found a feces-filled toilet, burn marks on the floor where she had lit fires to keep warm and other distressing signs, Brown was arrested for parental neglect. Police reported at the time that she seemed confused, the newspaper reported.
Her mother, Dorothy Davis, received custody of Brown’s children on the condition that Brown couldn’t also live with them, and Brown’s home was condemned, the newspaper reported. She lived in four homeless shelters from May until September, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Brown joined the St. Louis Empowerment Center, a drop-in center for the mentally ill, the newspaper reported.
“She was just starting to make progress,” Kevin Dean, a peer specialist at the center, told the Post-Dispatch.
Dean and another staff member at the drop-in center recalled hearing Anna Brown say she hurt her ankle.
Davis, who said Brown called every day to check on her children, said she wants answers about her daughter’s death.
“If the police killed my daughter, I want to know. If the hospital is at fault, I want to know,” Davis told the Post-Dispatch. “I want to be able to tell her children why their mother isn’t here.”