ST. JOHNS — Jocelyn Crystal Baca of Springerville once demanded $10.5 million from Apache County stemming from the premature birth of a child she had while she was an inmate at the county jail in 2018. She is now back in jail pending the outcome of accusations that she violated her probation.
Multiple criminal charges
Baca was charged on Dec. 21, 2017, with felony criminal damage and for possessing dangerous drugs for sale and drug paraphernalia. She was then 18 and was released pending trial. About a month later, on Jan. 17, 2018, law enforcement officers served a warrant on a residence in Springerville in connection with a heroin-for-sale investigation. As a result of that search, on Feb. 2, 2018, authorities filed five new counts against Baca related to possessing drug paraphernalia and once again, for possessing a dangerous drug.
Baca appeared in the Apache County Superior Court on Feb. 26, 2018, for court proceedings on her 2017 charges and was taken into custody for picking up new charges in Springerville while on release from the first case. If the dates from official documents are correct, she was pregnant at the time she was taken into custody.
While she was housed in the Apache County jail, Baca allegedly continued to use drugs. On April 17, 2018, images on a jail surveillance camera sparked an investigation; she was suspected of receiving a quantity of meth hidden in a book which was slid under her cell door by another inmate. Authorities searched the cell and she was found to have a wrapped package of meth hidden in a “rice bag,” according to a detention report. By then, she was about four months pregnant. Baca was charged with prisoner with contraband and once again, possession of a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia related to the jail investigation.
Around August 1, 2018, Baca went into labor in her jail cell, at about 30 weeks along. Detention staff, including a nurse who traveled in a separate car, placed her in a vehicle and started driving to Show Low. On the way, Baca gave birth to a premature baby, whom records identify as “E.B.”
When born, the baby wasn’t breathing, so the nurse cleared its air passage, saving the baby’s life. Both Baca and baby were airlifted to the Valley for care, and “E.B.” remained hospitalized for two months, says the claim. Baca went back to jail where a few weeks later she once again was in a jail disciplinary hearing and allegedly engaged in assault and disorderly conduct on August 17.
The Apache County Board of Supervisors later recognized detention nurse Destiny Kirk, R.N., with an award for saving the life of the baby and Baca; detention officer Corporal Raymond Rhodes received a commendation for his actions therein as well.
Notice of claim
On Jan. 24, 2019, Baca through her Scottsdale lawyer, served a $10.5 million “notice of claim” on the county alerting them to Baca’s intentions to sue the county and some of its employees. When suing a governmental entity, a notice of claim must be served on officials within six months of the incident in question; this allows time for the agency to investigate and evaluate the claim.
The notice of claim alleges callous mistreatment of Baca by jail staff, including the allegation that she was shackled while in labor, which is expressly prohibited by Arizona law. The baby, says the claim, was born with “permanent brain damage” resulting from the baby’s head hitting the floor in the back of a squad car during birth.
Her attorney did not respond to a request about the status of the claim. A public records request to Apache County produced only Baca’s jail records, but no information about the status of the claim.
Petition to revoke
With regard to Baca’s criminal cases, on Oct. 9, 2018, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit possession of dangerous drugs for sale, a Class 2 felony; criminal damage, a Class 5 felony; and possession or use of a dangerous drug, a Class 4 felony. The contraband set of charges was dismissed. She was sentenced to probation with drug treatment, and ordered to pay fines and restitution of approximately $2,682 including $254 to the jail.
On Feb. 22, 2021 the state filed a petition to revoke Baca’s probation, for a number of reasons including her testing positive for meth in January. Also, it is alleged that she recently attempted suicide and was directed by her probation officer to check herself into an in-patient facility. Baca told the officer on February 5 that she had checked into a particular facility, but the officer allegedly discovered that she had not.
Then on February 12 she was instructed to check into a different facility which she allegedly did, but then left the same day against medical advice.
The state alleges that she therefore violated her probation and was arrested on March 4. Baca is back in the Apache County jail on a no-bond hold. She is presumed by law not to have violated her probation.
Baca appeared in court on Monday with an attorney who was filling in for Baca’s first lawyer. The attorney told the court that he expects her to admit the violations at the next court date. Baca could be sent to prison for up to 12.5 years for the Class 2 Felony, but may avoid that considering her youth and mental health. She also is not accused of committing a new crime, and that makes a difference. The court could instead opt for a term in jail as a “disposition,” it is called. Baca’s next court date is April 5.