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Homeless Woman's Death Not Police's Fault, Says St. Louis Mayor

A homeless woman's death from blood clots hours after officers arrested her for trespassing at a suburban St. Louis hospital was a tragedy, but was not the fault of police, the town's mayor said.

A homeless woman's death from blood clots hours after officers arrested her for trespassing at a suburban St. Louis hospital was a tragedy, but was not the fault of police, the town's mayor said Monday.

Anna Brown, 29, died in September from blood clots that formed in her leg and migrated to her lungs after her arrest at St. Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights. St. Mary's was the third hospital where Brown sought help for her injured ankle and she refused to leave. She died hours later in her jail cell.

Mayor James Beck said in a statement issued to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the city performed a review "to determine whether our officers followed procedure and acted properly, given the circumstances. We concluded that they did follow procedure and acted appropriately."

Beck's statement said that during the time officers were in contact with Brown, "there was no indication she was in any imminent danger," the newspaper reported.

Beck's office declined to immediately issue the statement to The Associated Press, saying the mayor planned to speak at a city council meeting later.

Keith Link, the attorney for Brown's family, said no lawsuit has been filed to date, but added, "I think it's fairly obvious that something went terribly wrong. We are in the process of fully investigating the hours, days and minutes leading up to Anna's death and we do intend to hold any and all responsible parties accountable for it."

The hospital said in a statement last week that its staff followed medical guidelines and performed appropriate tests, but "blood clots can still be undetected in a small number of cases."

Brown's life had spiraled down since a New Year's Eve 2010 tornado destroyed her home. She and her two children relocated to a different home, but she lost her job at a sandwich shop soon afterward. Her utilities were shut off when she stopped paying bills and her children were removed after a child welfare agent found a feces-filled toilet, burn marks on the floor where Brown had lit fires to keep warm, and other distressing signs.

Police reported at the time that she was not lucid and seemed confused. Brown's mother, Dorothy Davis, took custody of the children on the condition Brown couldn't also live them.

Brown went on to bounce between shelters and live on the street from May to September. She injured her ankle and went to three hospitals complaining of leg pain in the days leading up to her death.

State inspectors working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — a federal agency that regulates hospitals — determined that when Brown arrived at St. Mary's on Sept. 20 her left ankle was swollen. She was there for about seven hours, during which ultrasounds on both legs were negative for blood clots.

Inspectors said she returned eight hours later and was discharged at 7 a.m. on Sept. 21. Three hours after that, she still refused to leave.

A doctor issued a "Fit for Confinement" report, and Brown was arrested for trespassing, handcuffed and taken to the police station.

Brown told the arresting officers she couldn't get out of the car because she couldn't put any pressure on her legs, so they dragged her by the arms inside, according to surveillance tapes. They listed her physical state as "suspected drug use" and noted she had "unknown leg pain" in their report.

Her condition worsened at the station, and officers carried her by the arms and legs into a jail cell, laid her on her back on the floor and left. Fifteen minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch. The autopsy determined she had no drugs in her system.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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