A four-month long internal Alachua County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the birth of a newborn behind bars and her eventual death, revealed Tuesday that no misconduct took place inside the jail. However, the mother’s supporters disagree.
Erica Thompson, 25, gave birth in an Alachua County Jail cell Aug. 9 after being in labor for hours. In a Facebook post, she wrote her screams for help went unanswered, and she later lost her baby, Ava, at UF Health Shands Hospital. She had been arrested the same day for violating her probation and failing to appear in court on a traffic charge.
“my daughter died in my arms at the hospital and I say all this to say ALACHUA COUNTY JAIL is responsible for all my pain and suffering,” she wrote. “they're responsible for the death of my daughter.”
Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson said the sheriff’s office disputes the claims. Time stamped photos show Thompson being checked on by emergency responders at 11 p.m. and by medical staff at 5:41 p.m, 8:34 p.m and 10:21`p.m.
“The death of Ms. Thompson’s baby is tragic, and we are greatly saddened by her and her family’s loss; however, I must present you with the facts of the case,” Watson said.
Watson approved the findings of the Office of Professional Standards, which looked into Thompson’s arrest, incarceration and medical care, according to a release. Watson said neither employees nor the contracted medical provider violated any laws or policies.
The investigation included witness testimony of security operations staff and medical providers as well as a review of security footage, officer’s log and medical records, ACSO spokesperson Kaley Behl said.
“It took a while to get done, but of course we wanted to make sure that it was thorough and complete,” Behl said. “We still have an obligation to the citizens of Alachua County and to the inmates in the jail to make sure that we didn't miss anything.”
Behl said ACSO policies and procedures are reviewed at least every year to ensure the best practice. In 2020, the Tammy Jackson Act was passed, granting pregnant inmates proper care including being taken to a medical facility and not being placed in restrictive housing. After learning of the law, ACSO made changes to about six policies to comply with the law and accreditation standards, Behl said.
Activists like Tray Johns, the 46-year-old director of nonprofit Dignity Power, still firmly believe ACSO violated the Tammy Jackson Act.
Johns, who helped advocate for the law, said restrictive housing includes all areas of a jail.
“She needed to be transported to a hospital no later than an hour after she complained of contractions,” Johns said.
Supporting Thompson, Dignity Powers is working to pass “Protecting the Dignity of Women and Infants” or “Ava’s Law” after Thompson’s newborn.
The proposal, which Tray said will hopefully put an end to holding pregnant women in custody, was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate’s criminal justice committee Tuesday.
After learning of the findings, Johns said she’s still disappointed in Watson’s judgment.
“Sheriff Clovis let down women — specifically Black women and Black babies,” Johns said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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Isabella Douglas is a fourth-year journalism major and the Fall 2023 editor-in-chief for The Alligator. She has previously worked as the digital managing editor, metro editor, criminal justice reporter and as a news assistant. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR.