ST JOHNS — Jocelyn Baca of Eagar has 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.
Baca was charged and has since pled guilty to a number of drug-related felonies.
Baca was charged on December 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 January 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 February 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 February 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. But whatever glow went along with the awards was quickly extinguished.
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.
With regard to her suit for damages, one big question remains: If “E.B.” is found to have brain damage, what caused it? Improper treatment from jail employees, or exposure to dangerous drugs in utero?
With regard to Baca’s criminal cases, on October 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 a very strict type of probation, called “intensive probation” for seven years, and ordered to pay fines and restitution of approximately $2,682 including $254 to the jail.
Baca’s attorney did not return a call for comment. That’s understandable considering the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality and litigation strategies. The attorney is a private lawyer answerable to the client, not to the public or voters, and the attorney’s records are not public.
The Apache County Attorney’s Office refused to return calls and emails too, even though the voters and residents are on the hook for any damages that may be awarded in Baca’s claim. A public records request to Apache County produced only Baca’s jail records, but no information about the status of the claim.