TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- A lawyer representing the family of a Florida woman who died after being removed from a hospital in handcuffs said both hospital staff and police were negligent. Hospital officials said the type of blood clot revealed in the autopsy is often "difficult to detect and can be impossible to treat."
The incident comes amid increased scrutiny of police treatment of blacks in U.S. cities in the wake of several high-profile police-involved deaths. The woman, Barbara Dawson, was black, the family's lawyer said. The officer who arrested her is a white man and is on his regularly scheduled days off, according to Blountstown Police Chief Mark Mallory.
Dawson, 57, collapsed Monday while police escorted her from the hospital, where she went for treatment for breathing difficulties, Mallory said. She was arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing when she refused multiple requests to leave, Mallory said.
The medical examiner's office in Panama City found that Dawson died from a blood clot due to being excessively overweight, Mallory said in a statement Wednesday morning. Neither the autopsy report, nor the police report, nor the dashcam video of the incident has been released.
During a news conference later Wednesday, Calhoun Liberty Hospital CEO Ruth Atttaway said the hospital would cooperate with state investigators who are looking into the matter and the circumstances of Dawson's death would be fully reviewed. Attaway refused to address why hospital staff called police to remove Dawson. She added that the only time hospital staff ask police to remove patients is when there is a concern about other patients' safety.
"Based on information from the 14th District ME's office, Ms. Dawson passed away due to pulmonary saddle embolus, or a blood clot in her lungs," Attaway said. "While we can't speak about her condition, we can generally address this medical condition. A pulmonary embolism is often immediate and fatal. It is difficult to detect and can be impossible to treat."
While doctors initially thought Dawson was stable and should be released, Dawson felt as if she still had breathing issues and wanted to stay, said Daryl Parks, the attorney representing her family.
Dawson's family told CBS affiliate WCTV in Tallahassee that she used an oxygen tank all the time. Her family said she came to the hospital on Sunday night complaining of stomach pains.
Mallory said the officer who was escorting Dawson out of the hospital asked for help after she collapsed and failed to respond to verbal commands, at which point the officer removed the handcuffs.
"We were told by a doctor once she got back in the hospital that her vital signs were good and it was their decision to readmit her," he said. He said dashcam footage from the officer's car does not show the incident but does pick up the audio.
Medical staff came to the patrol car to check her pulse and breathing, and the attending physician came outside and instructed medical staff to bring Dawson back inside the hospital, he said.
He said Dawson collapsed about 5 a.m. and was pronounced dead at 6:24 a.m.
Parks said his firm is in the preliminary stages of their investigation on whether to file a lawsuit against the Blountstown Police Department, Calhoun Liberty Hospital or both.
Parks' law firm, the Tallahassee-based Parks and Crump, has represented black families in high-profile national cases, including the shooting deaths of black men Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Missouri. When asked to compare this case to others, Parks called this "a civil rights case of modern proportions."
"The most reasonable thing to do is to let her sit there and be able to settle down until she felt well. Instead, she is forcibly removed and put in cuffs," Parks said. "The early facts of this case should cause a great concern for everyone."
"You have a health side and a law enforcement side to it," Parks said. "She is telling them that she is feeling a certain way and they decided that they need to get rid of her and use law enforcement to do just that. That deliberate indifference in this situation led to her death."