RICHMOND HEIGHTS — A St. Louis hospital says it made every effort to help a homeless woman who sought treatment for a sprained ankle and who subsequently died while in police custody following her arrest for refusing to leave the emergency room.
An autopsy determined that 29-year-old Anna Brown's death in September was caused by blood clots that formed in her legs and migrated to her lungs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Brown's family said they believe authorities treated her unfairly and have hired a lawyer, Keith Link, who didn't respond to messages Thursday seeking comment.
St. Mary's Health Center said in a statement Thursday that its staff followed medical guidelines and performed appropriate tests.
"Unfortunately, even with appropriate testing using sophisticated technology, blood clots can still be undetected in a small number of cases," said the hospital, which also acknowledged the "outrage being expressed about this tragic event." A spokeswoman declined an interview request, citing patient privacy laws.
A New Year's Eve 2010 tornado destroyed Brown's north St. Louis home, and her life would only get harder. 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 reported. 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 was not lucid and seemed confused.
Her mother, Dorothy Davis, got custody of Brown's children on the condition that Brown couldn't also live with them, and Brown's home was condemned. She lived in homeless shelters from May until September, the paper reported.
Davis, who said Brown called every day to check on her children, said she wants answers about how her daughter died.
"If the police killed my daughter, I want to know. 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," said Davis.
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 told the arresting officers she couldn't get out of the car because she couldn't put any pressure on her legs, so they dragged her by the arms into the station, according to surveillance tapes. They listed her physical state as "suspected drug use" noted she had "unknown leg pain" in their report, the paper reported. Her condition worsened at the station, and officers carried her by the arms and legs into a jail cell, laid her on her back on the floor and left. Fifteen minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.
The autopsy determined that she had no drugs in her system.
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."
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.
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 took her to jail.
"My sister is not here today because people passed judgment," said one of her nine siblings, Krystle Brown.