The family of Barbara Dawson is not only heartbroken, but frustrated as well about the conditions at a Florida hospital that led to her death last month.
The 57-year-old woman, who had a history of breathing problems, went to Calhoun Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, Fla., on Dec. 20 with abdominal pains. Although still in pain, she was discharged after eight hours. The medical staff alleges that the police were called once Dawson became disruptive and refused to leave.
What happened next is the point of contention. The police dashcam video, which was released Wednesday, includes audio (Dawson is barely seen) where she is heard repeatedly begging for help, saying, “oh my God.” Officers calmly explain to her that she has to leave as she insists, hysterically, that she does not feel well and cannot breathe. She was then forcibly removed from the hospital in handcuffs. At one point, Dawson pleading for help is overheard saying, “they’re going to kill me.”
“She was pushed out of the hospital. Her last words were, ‘please, please help me.’ She was begging them for help,” said Martha Dickson, Dawson’s aunt.
Moments later she lay unresponsive as the officers continue to try to convince her to comply to their demands and get into the police car. There is a roughly 20 minute gap of silence in the dash-cam audio before medical staff realized she was not feigning her condition. She was brought back inside the hospital and died shortly thereafter. The Panama City medical examiner’s autopsy report determined Dawson died from a blood clot in her lung.
“They knew Barbara well at that hospital and they knew every time she went there, she always had her oxygen,” said Stafford Dawson, the victim’s brother. “And then to think that she was playing possum after she collapsed and to just let her lay there for 20 minutes with no CPR or trying to help her just tears my heart out. It will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
In responding Officer John Tadlock’s police report, he states that he asked a nurse to check Dawson’s vitals several times and was assured that Dawson was “within normal range.” Once a doctor came out to do the same, the physician determined that Dawson be readmitted for “symptoms totally different than what she had been released from earlier.”
Blountstown Police Chief Mark Mallory stands behind his officers and said in a statement that while police officers are trained in performing CPR, it would not be performed on someone who is breathing with a heartbeat, as was the case with Dawson.
That is little consolation for Dawson’s family who paint the picture of a loving, generous, churchgoing woman with strong ties to the community.
“A few years ago, I saw an SUV that I wanted. The man selling the car asked for $9,500 and I told him I’d give him $7,500,” explained her brother. “I shared it with Barbara and she said well why don’t you get it and I said, I can’t afford it right now. She left and came back within the hour. She reached out the car with a McDonald’s bag. When I opened the bag, there wasn’t no Big Mac and fries, there were 75, $100 bills. That’s the kind of heart that she had…willing to give so someone else can be lifted up.”
Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys for Dawson's family, said of the deceased woman, “she didn’t get the benefit of doubt or the benefit of humanity.” Although no official lawsuits have been filed, Crump says the plan is to seek legal action.
“We are seeking justice for her. No one should be treated that way,” said Dawson’s brother. “We want to hold everyone accountable who played a part in her death. People don’t just go to the hospital just to go. People go when they are sick.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, the Blountstown Police Department, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have all launched independent investigations into this incident.
Wendy L. Wilson is a Contributing Editor for EBONY.com. Follow her on Twitter @WendyLWilson_