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Woman dies in jail after refusing to leave St. Louis hospital

Monday, March 26, 2012 | 4:22 p.m. CDT

RICHMOND HEIGHTS — Family members have hired an attorney after a homeless relative seeking treatment for a sprained ankle refused to leave a St. Louis hospital, was arrested for trespassing and then died in a jail cell.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that an autopsy revealed blood clots killed Anna Brown when they migrated from her legs to her lungs. No lawsuit has been filed, but Brown's mother, Dorothy Davis, wants answers.

"If the police killed my daughter, I want to know," she said. "If the hospital is at fault, I want to know. I want to be able to tell her children why their mother isn't here."

In the week before her daughter's death in September she went to three hospitals complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.

Brown, a 29-year-old woman who had lost custody of two children, refused to leave the third hospital, St. Mary's Health Center. She yelled from a wheelchair at security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn't stand. She was arrested for trespassing and wheeled out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.

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. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

Although officers suspected Brown was using drugs, autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.

St. Mary's officials say they did all they were supposed to do for Brown. "Our records show that, in this case, everything that should have been done medically was done properly. We found nothing that would have changed this tragic outcome," according to a statement.

Acting Police Chief Maj. Roy Wright said his officers had no way of knowing Brown's dire condition.

"A lot of times people don't want to stay in jail and will claim to be sick," he said. "We depend on medical officials to tell us they're OK."

Brown's personal problems came to a head in April when a state social services representative found Brown's home in disarray. Brown's mother was allowed to care for the children as long as Brown didn't live with them. Soon Brown was on the streets, living in four homeless shelters from May to September. Eventually, she joined the St. Louis Empowerment Center, a drop-in center for the mentally ill.

"It was like a light bulb went on when she heard others tell their stories," said Kevin Dean, a peer specialist at the center. "She was just starting to make progress."

State inspectors working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — a federal agency that regulates hospitals — interviewed St. Mary's staff and reviewed medical records after the Post-Dispatch asked about Brown's case in January.

They found that when Brown arrived at St. Mary's around 11:45 a.m. on Sept. 20, her left ankle was swollen. She was there for about seven hours, during which ultrasounds on both of her legs were negative for blood clots.

Inspectors said she returned eight hours later and was discharged at 7 a.m. Three hours later, she was still there and refusing to leave.

After obtaining a "Fit for Confinement" report from a doctor at 12:30 p.m., officers carried her by her arms and legs into a cell and left her on her back on the floor. A short time later they were shocking her with a defibrillator and rushing her back to St. Mary's, where her nine siblings rushed to be with her.

"My sister is not here today because people passed judgment," said one of her siblings, Krystle Brown.


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