ACSO investigation clears staff in baby’s death

An internal investigation has cleared Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) staff in the death of a baby born at the county jail in August.

The ACSO announced the finding Tuesday upon the conclusion of its probe into the incident involving inmate Erica Thompson, who was arrested Aug. 9 and subsequently gave birth prematurely to a baby who later died.

The incident came to light on Aug. 10 when Thompson posted on social media and blamed ASCO and UF Shands Hospital for her baby’s death.

“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,” she wrote. “I’m so hurt and just still in disbelief that I had to have my child in jail in my bunk all by myself.”

Once Thompson went public, it sparked an outcry that included a protest outside the Alachua County Jail on Aug. 11 and the creation of a GoFundMe page to assist Thompson with her expenses.

ACSO deputies arrested Thompson, 25, for two active warrants on the morning of Aug. 9. After she gave birth at the jail that night, first responders transported her and her daughter, Ava, to Shands, where the infant died.

ACSO Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., ordered a full investigation of the incident by the ACSO Office of Professional Standards.

Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr.

According to the ACSO press release Tuesday, the Office of Professional Standards conducted an extensive examination into the circumstances surrounding Thompson’s arrest, incarceration and medical care. It forwarded the final report to Watson for final review and approval on Tuesday.

“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 in a statement. “The results of the investigation determined there was nothing to indicate that any misconduct occurred. Additionally, there were no findings of law or policy violations on the part of Alachua County Sheriff’s Office employees or the contracted medical provider.

“We remain committed to providing high quality care, custody and control of all inmates housed within the Alachua County Jail and will continue to ensure that protocols and procedures are regularly reviewed so that we operate under the best practices possible. As Sheriff of Alachua County, my thoughts and prayers continue to remain with Ms. Thompson and her family.”

In a press conference held for the media on Aug. 20, ACSO lead investigator Brett Rhodenizer and spokesperson Kaley Behl presented video footage and a timeline from when Thompson was taken into custody, went into labor, delivered her baby and was taken from the Alachua County Jail to Shands.

At that conference, the ACSO addressed why deputies arrested Thompson and booked her knowing she was pregnant, especially in light of Florida passing the Tammy Jackson Act in 2020 that ensures inmates in labor are immediately taken to a medical facility, given proper care and not placed in restrictive housing involuntarily.

“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 at the Aug. 20 press conference. “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.”

ACSO plans to release the final report on Wednesday.

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