Lawyers for the family of a Florida woman who died after police forced her out of a hospital in handcuffs released police dash-cam video today from her arrest last month, capturing some of her last moments alive.
Barbara Dawson, 57, died at Calhoun Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, Florida, early Dec. 21 after she collapsed while being taken out in handcuffs by a Blountstown police officer, according to officials.
Dawson had gone to the hospital seeking treatment for abdominal pain the night before, but an officer was called to the hospital after she had been discharged by medical staff who alleged she had become unruly and refused to leave, officials said. The officer then arrested Dawson and removed her from the hospital for "disorderly conduct and trespassing."
Martha Smith-Dixon, Dawson's aunt, said at a news conference today that Dawson's family hopes the public release of the police dash-cam video will help bring "justice for Barbara" and prevent similar incidents in the future.
"Police are supposed to protect and serve," Smith-Dixon said. "The hospital is supposed to save lives. When Barbara, our family member, went to the hospital, she was denied all of those rights."
Though Dawson is not visible in most of the police interior dash-cam video, she can be heard repeatedly shouting "oh my God," and saying she "can't breathe" multiple times as Dawson is told that she's OK, "there's nothing wrong with you" and to "please stand up."
The officer can be heard on the tape telling Dawson at one point, "We surely don’t want to hurt you ... but you are going go to jail one way or the other, OK? So you can help us ... or we can do it the hard way." An officer and hospital staff can be seen trying to lift her, now silent, into a police car as the dash-cam continues to roll inside.
Calhoun Liberty CEO Ruth Attaway said in a statement today that hospital officials are reviewing the police video, adding, “First, we continue to grieve the loss of a patient and a member of the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Ms. Dawson as well as with our community.”
“Our primary objective in this situation is to remain transparent and to welcome investigation from authorities. We have already welcomed reviews and investigations from the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as well as the Department of Health. To the fullest extent permitted by state and federal law, we will continue to be transparent and forthcoming with our community and the public.”
Daryl Parks, an attorney for Dawson's family, said today in a news conference that the audio from the recording revealed Dawson was "in a panic, telling [the officer] that she cannot breathe."
At one point in the video, a police officer radios in, saying, "Let them know I have a 270-pound black female that has been non-compliant, lying on the ground, and it has been physically impossible for us to get her in the back of this car."
There is a long gap of audio in the recording -- about 20 minutes -- from when Dawson could no longer be heard to when medical assistance arrived.
"We believe from a medical standpoint, and from a policeman's stand point, that [gap] is significant in the delay that you have there," Parks said. "There was not deliberate speed to assist her."
A police report of the incident sent by the Blountstown Police Department to ABC affiliate WTXL-TV said the responding officer who was arresting Dawson believed "Dawson was just being noncompliant and making herself dead weight in an effort to avoid going to jail."
Parks said that the officer's assumption "cost Barbara Dawson her life."
The police report also noted that Dawson repeatedly asked for her oxygen tank before she collapsed and that she was brought back inside the hospital.
Dawson later died because of a blood clot in her lung, according to an autopsy report from the medical examiner's office in Panama City.
Blountstown Police Chief Mark Mallory told ABC News in a statement today that law enforcement were first responders and "not medically trained professionals." He explained that while police officers are CPR-trained, CPR "would not be utilized on a person that is breathing and that has a heartbeat, as was the case with Ms. Dawson."
He added that though "the officer may have suspected that Ms. Dawson was intentionally noncompliant, he nonetheless fully executed his duty and responsibility, requesting that medical professionals continue to verify Ms. Dawson’s health status, even after the medical professionals initially assessed and evaluated Ms. Dawson following her collapse."
"In Ms. Dawson's case, the responding officer acted appropriately, by audio recording of the events as they transpired on December 21, 2015, the officer sought medical professionals that responded to Ms. Dawson in the Calhoun-Liberty Hospital parking lot included the following: registered nurses, a paramedic, and a doctor," Mallory added. "Upon the arrival of the various medical professionals, the officer deferred to the professional training and expertise of the summoned medical professionals to evaluate and [assess] Ms. Dawson's need for medical intervention."
"Regardless, Ms. Dawson's passing is a loss felt by our community, and our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and friends during this time," Mallory said.
Lawyers for Dawson's family said today it was "suspicious" that the hospital's surveillance camera "wasn't working."
Hospital spokeswoman Sandi Poreda told the Associated Press last month that there is no hospital video of the incident because a server was down for upgrades. Poreda said hospital staff determined on Dec. 22 that the server had not stored video since Nov. 28. She added that the server has been fixed, footage is now being recorded and the hospital is also in the process of installing new cameras.
Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys for Dawson's family, said it "is very important that we remember the larger implication in the tragic death of Barbara Dawson," adding that police and hospital personnel treated her "like she was not worthy of consideration."
Lawyers at Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, the firm representing Dawson's family, told ABC News today that the firm has not filed any lawsuits, as of today.
The BPD and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have launched independent investigations into Dawson's arrest and death. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has also started its own investigation "to determine if the hospital violated any state or federal requirements surrounding last week’s incident at the hospital."