ACSO defends handling of jail birth

The ACSO's Kaley Behl and Brett Rhodenizer speak at Friday press conference to address accusations of negligence that led to the death of an inmate's newborn baby.
The ACSO's Kaley Behl and Brett Rhodenizer speak at Friday press conference to address accusations of negligence that led to the death of an inmate's newborn baby.
C.J. Gish

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) held a press conference Friday afternoon to address an Alachua County Jail inmate’s claims of neglect and that she had to give birth alone, leading to her baby’s death.

“This is still an active investigation—this is only a preliminary administrative review of this,” said Cpt. Kaley Behl, ACSO public information officer. “The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office feels extremely bad for this woman. To lose your child is a very tragic event, but what we are here to show you is that we acted appropriately, so we can show you we did everything we could based on these unfortunate circumstances.”

On the morning of Aug. 9, Erica Thompson, 25, was arrested on a warrant for felony violation of probation and failure to appear on traffic charges, according to the ACSO. Thompson, who was pregnant, was taken into custody and evaluated to determine if she should be booked into jail or taken to a hospital. The day before, Thompson had contractions, was examined at UF Health Shands and discharged, ACSO officials said.

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While in jail on the evening of Aug. 9, Thompson gave birth in her cell. Her premature baby, Ava, later died after the two were transported to UF Shands.

Thompson criticized both ACSO and UF Shands staff for what she said was negligence in her baby’s death. The subsequent public outcry led to a protest in front of the jail and a GoFundMe page to assist Thompson.

“Alachua County Jail is responsible for all of my pain and suffering physically and mentally and they’re responsible for the death of my daughter,” Thompson posted on social media. “I’m so hurt and and just still in disbelief that I had to have my child in jail in my bunk all by myself.”

The ACSO released time-stamped photos and video showing what it said was the accurate sequence of events:

9:15 a.m.—Officers attempt to serve warrants at 3514 NW 50th Avenue.

9:22 a.m.—Thompson was found inside the house hiding in a closet.

9:32 a.m.—Thompson transported 11 minutes to the Alachua County Jail.

9:43 a.m.—Thompston arrived at the Alachua County Jail.

9:50 a.m.—Corizon Correctional Healthcare booking nurse provides preliminary check to see if Thompson should stay at the jail or go to the hospital. Nurse indicates Thompson is cleared to stay in the jail because she is not in medical distress.

10:31 a.m.—Thompson taken to the female infirmary.

1:00 p.m.—Thompson goes through the booking process.

4:34 p.m.—After booking, the detention officer escorts Thompson to her cell. She is put

on 15-minute checks in which staff document how she is doing.

10:20 p.m.—Detention officer Crawford reports Thompson is asking for assistance.

10:21 p.m.—Infirmary nurse responds to Crawford’s request to check Thompson.

10:23 p.m.—Crawford and nurse examine Thompson.

10:48 p.m.—Sgt. Harris comes to check the situation reported by Crawford.

10:50 p.m.—Sgt. Harris determines Thompson is in labor.

10:53 p.m.—Harris, Crawford and the nurse assist Thompson delivering the baby.

10:56 p.m.—Two additional Corizon nurses and three detention staff arrive to help.

10:59 p.m.—Paramedics arrive and transport Thompson and baby to UF Shands.

The ACSO addressed why deputies arrested Thompson and booked her knowing she was pregnant, especially in light of Florida passing the Tammy Jackson Act last year that ensures inmates in labor are immediately taken to a medical facility, given proper care and not placed in restrictive housing involuntarily. 

“We will look at everything,” said Lt. Brett Rhodenizer, the lead investigator with the ACSO office of professional standards. “Our sole focus is finding facts. Were our policies followed correctly, are our policies and procedures adequate? We will absolutely access that.”

The two counts of probation violation were not bond warrants, Rhodenizer said, adding that a warrant instructs law enforcement to find the person and bring them in.

“We found her, made an assessment if she is OK to come to the jail and be seen by a judge the next morning, which we are bound by law to do,” Rhodenzier said. “Should we review our policy on arresting pregnant women? Yes. Right now there is not a provision in the law that renders pregnancy itself as a disqualifier for (going to jail). And those are discussions for others to have.”

With the investigation still incomplete, Behl said that the goal of this preliminary fact-releasing conference was to put the truth before the public. She said Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson felt it was important to release this information, despite the sensitive nature of the situation.

“It’s a very personal tragedy for (Thompson) and the last thing we want to do is make this worse for someone who has experienced the loss of a child,” Behl said. “But at the same point, we also have a duty to let the citizens of Alachua County, and all those people who have loved ones in jail, to know that, No. 1, we take it seriously when someone says we have acted in some way that caused the death of a child and put a mother in tragedy. And No. 2, we want to let everyone know that we are looking at every part of this. That is our goal to put the truth out there.”

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