Watch CBS News

Premature Baby Born At Dawson Jail Without Medically Trained Personnel

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – CBS 11 has learned a baby was prematurely born last month at the Dawson Jail in downtown Dallas, apparently with no medically trained personnel in attendance.

The baby lived four days.

In an exclusive interview with CBS 11, Doctor Owen Murray, Vice President of Offender Health Services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said there is no state requirement to have medically trained personnel at Dawson between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m., which was the period in which Autumn Miller gave birth to her daughter, Gracie.

It was the latest development in a series of stories CBS 11 has been investigating on the medical care provided to inmates at the privately-run prison facility.

In our first report, a severely diabetic woman died after her family said she became ill in the jail. Her cries for help to guards went ignored, according to her family.

In our next report, a young woman died of pneumonia after personnel at Dawson failed, according to her family, to furnish her with the antibiotics she needed.

After our second story aired, Jean Burr contacted CBS 11. Burr is a grandmother with a dozen grandchildren. She called us the day after her family buried her newest granddaughter. It was a little girl, with a name that conveyed her brief life, Gracie.

"She was here by the grace of God and gone the same way," her grandmother said.

Gracie came into the world in an unlikely place: Dawson State Jail. The facility holds non-violent criminals who commit minor crimes. Gracie's mother, Autumn Miller, was convicted of a drug charge, violated her probation and got a year behind bars.

Miller arrived at Dawson in January. She has three other children and knew what it felt like to be pregnant.

"Three weeks before the baby was born, she had requested a pregnancy test and pap smear, because she had not had a period since she had been there and she was feeling unwell. She didn't know what was wrong, but she was not feeling right," Burr said.

Officials at Dawson will not tell CBS 11 News whether they have any records of Autumn Miller requesting a pregnancy test.

Dawson State Jail is run by a private company called Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA will not respond to our questions about what occurred inside the jail on June 14, 2012.

But Burr says her daughter tells a chilling story of what happened during the early morning hours when she began to bleed and cramp inside the jail and had trouble walking.

"They took her down to the medical unit on a stretcher. When she got there, there was a doctor on the screen," Burr said.

But Miller told her mother that the doctor, who was available through a teleconference, never had a chance to see her.

"The lady that was down there in the medical unit in charge told the doctor they did not need him for this patient and they just turned this off … She was crying, complaining that she was feeling pressure, pain, bleeding and something was bad wrong. They needed to do something," Burr told CBS 11.

"One of the guards in there made the comment that, 'Oh, it is probably the food, you probably need to go poo.' They gave her a menstrual pad, locked her in a holding cell and closed the door. And then she went in there and pressure was so bad she went to the toilet…," Gracie's grandmother said.

What happened next, according to Burr, has changed all of their lives forever. And, she says, it was something no one at the jail was prepared to handle at that time.

After Miller went to the bathroom, "the baby came out and went into the toilet and she started screaming," Burr said.

Tiny Gracie was born premature on June 14 at just 26 weeks. She weighed a little more than a pound. Ambulances rushed Gracie and Miller to Parkland Hospital where doctors worked against the odds to save Gracie.

Pictures from the hospital show Miller holding her newborn, snuggled in a pink blanket, near to her chest. Miller, still in handcuffs, holds the little girl's hands. By day three, Miller, Burr and other family members had hope that Gracie had a fighting chance of surviving.

But after four days, doctors told them Gracie was beyond all help.

So she made the decision to let the baby go; Autumn held her while she took her last breath and heartbeats. And they pronounced her dead at 5:30.

"And shortly after 6, (Autumn) was on her way back to Dawson," Burr said.

Once at the jail, Miller was placed in solitary confinement for two days, her mother, overwhelmed with emotions, said.

"This is still a woman with the afterbirth and bleeding and stitches where she'd had a tubal … and they locked her in there for two days … and then they took her to see a psychiatrist and said, 'Well, you've been on suicide watch,' " Burr said.

Burr, grief stricken by the loss of her granddaughter, contacted CBS 11 after learning that the station had been investigating the medical care at Dawson, and the circumstances leading up to the deaths of other inmates at the facility.

"I understand that their freedom and their rights have been taken because they have done things to cause that….(But) this could have been prevented," Burr said, as tears welled up in her eyes. "No baby should be born in a toilet in prison."

Burr tells CBS 11 she believes that if Autumn had been given the pregnancy test that she requested, things would have turned out differently.

"Then three weeks later they would have known she was having a baby," Burr said. "She could have been in a medical unit. She could have had the treatment she should have been having. And maybe Gracie would still be with us," the grandmother said.

Fighting back tears and still devastated by the loss of her newest grandchild, she clings to an album of the pictures the hospital took of them all together over the four days Gracie lived.

"It would have changed the outcome of what will be with Autumn for the rest of her life to live with.  She's going to see that baby being born in that toilet – and die -- for the rest of her life … she didn't deserve that," Burr said.

Miller's lawyer told CBS 11 he did not want Miller speaking to us while she is still at Dawson. She is scheduled to be released in November.

Neither CCA nor the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will answer our specific questions about the incident that occurred on June 14 or about the deaths of the other inmates.

Steven Owen, spokesman for CCA, provided us the following statement:

"Our dedicated, professional corrections staff is firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care. Inmates are provided a number of ways to communicate concerns about health care to facility management, CCA management, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). CCA is not the health care provider at the Dawson State Jail, so the company is not privy to medical-specific information about inmates. Health care services at this facility are provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in contract with TDCJ. Our team works closely with our government partners to ensure inmates have access to the healthcare service providers at the facility."

Jason Clark, spokesman for TDCJ, referred us the same written statement he gave us several months ago when our investigation began:

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice oversees the confinement of approximately 156,000 offenders at 111 facilities across the state. In addition to operating its own units, the agency also contracts with private entities to operate secure facilities such as Dawson State Jail. There are five privately operated state jails. Corrections Corporation of America is the current contractor at Dawson State Jail. Through a competitive bidding process, CCA was awarded a contract for the operation and management of the facility beginning September 1, 2010 with options for renewal through August 31, 2017.

While I cannot address offender Weatherby's case specifically, the safety, security, and well- being of offenders is paramount to the agency.  TDCJ goes to great lengths to ensure that the contractor is complying with the contract. Each privately operated state jail has a contract monitor that is assigned to the unit and is responsible for monitoring the contract between the agency and contractor. Monthly unannounced visits and specific area of compliance reviews are conducted each month throughout the year. If issues are found, the agency requires to contractor to remedy them within a specific time frame or the contract can ultimately be terminated.

TDCJ is obligated to provide medical care for offenders. The agency partners with Texas Tech University Health Science Center and University of Texas Medical Branch to provide comprehensive healthcare to adult offenders incarcerated within state prisons and state jails. UTMB is the medical provider at Dawson State Jail. Specific questions about offender healthcare should be directed to them.  TDCJ – Health Services Division works to ensure that offenders have access to care, monitor quality of care, investigate medical grievances, and conduct operational review audits of health care services at TDCJ facilities including Dawson State Jail."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.