CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. - The Clayton County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death of the infant decapitated during childbirth at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale on July 10, 2023, as a homicide.
Jessica Ross, 20, was rushed to the hospital in Riverdale after her water broke on July 9, according to a lawsuit filed by the family.
The baby — Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Jr.—reportedly became stuck due to shoulder dystocia. Dr. Tracy St. Julian allegedly tried for hours to deliver the child vaginally. Shortly before midnight, the decision was made to perform a Cesarean section and the infant’s body was delivered. The head was delivered vaginally.
The lawsuit claims that Dr. St. Julian did not tell Ross and her family about the decapitation when she spoke to them at approximately 5 a.m. on July 10. The lawsuit also claims the hospital discouraged Ross and the baby’s father, Treveon Taylor Sr., from seeking an autopsy, saying a free autopsy was not an option for them under the circumstances. Instead, they reportedly encouraged the couple to have their son cremated instead of being sent to a funeral home.
When Ross and Taylor demanded to see and hold their child, the baby was reportedly tightly wrapped in a blanket with his head "propped on top of his body" to conceal the fact that he was decapitated.
The family was ultimately told about the decapitation by the funeral home, according to the family’s lawyer.
Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home also contacted the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office on July 13.
Investigation opened into decapitation incident
An investigator was assigned to the case and reached out to the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office to ask for help from its Pediatric Forensic Pathologist team in performing an autopsy, which took place the next day.
After reviewing the preliminary results of the autopsy, investigators reached out to the state agencies overseeing the doctor and nurses who were on-duty during the birth.
The Clayton County Police Department also launched its own criminal investigation.
Hospital releases statement after decapitation
The Southern Regional Medical Center released a statement after the incident saying the infant's death occurred "in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation." They also said that the doctor who delivered the baby, Dr. Tracy St. Julian, is not and "never has been" an employee of the hospital.
The lawsuit asked for Ross and Taylor to be compensated for the suffering and death of the child and the "tremendous mental and physical anguish and trauma" experienced by Ross, who was awake while the doctor was attempting to remove the baby.
Lawsuit filed against hospital, doctor, nurses
The lawsuit alleged Dr. St. Julian failed to practice according to medical standards when she "grossly negligently applied excessive traction on Treveon Isiah Taylor Jr.'s head and neck and grossly negligently failed to do a Cesarean section in a timely and proper manner, resulting in Treveon Isaiah Taylor Jr.'s decapitation and death."
The lawsuit also says Premier Womens' OB/GYN, LLC, is "liable for the grossly negligent acts and omissions of its employee and/or agent Tracey St. Julian, M.D., who cared for Ms. Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Jr. on or about July 9, 2023."
Additionally, several nurses were also accused of gross negligence because they reportedly did not follow proper procedures once it was determined that a shoulder dystocia had occurred. According to the complaint, the nurses "owed an independent duty" to the Ross and her baby.
The complaint is also seeking to recover damages for the full value of the baby's life, including loss of earnings and loss of enjoyment of life.
Clayton County Medical Examiner's Office Report
The Clayton County ME determined the specific cause of death of Treveon Taylor. According to the report, his death was caused by a fracture-dislocation with complete transection of the upper cervical (C1-C2) spine and spinal cord. It was caused by shoulder dystocia, arrest of labor, and fetal entrapment in the birth canal.
Other significant conditions contribution to death included pregnancy-induced diabetes and premature rupture of membranes, according to the medical examiner's office.
The ME's office says it received a call from the Willie Watkins Funeral Home on July 13 about the baby. Watkins told the ME's office they called because they thought it was unusual that the medical examiner's office was not already involved. Chief Investigator Betty Honey was dispatched to the funeral home. After her initial investigation, she requested the GBI to perform another autopsy.
She also contacted the Clayton County Police Department Criminal Investigation Division and they opened their own investigation. The Georgia Composite Medical Board and Georgia Department of Community Health’s Healthcare Facility Regulation Division were also contacted.
Director Brian Byars was communicating with Southern Regional Hospital to help gather any facts that were available at this point.
On July 14, the GBI's medical examiner conducted another autopsy.
On Oct. 19, Chief Honey and Director Byars consulted with an out-of-state OB/GYN who has performed over 10,000 labor deliveries and is a subject matter court expert.
On Oct. 20, Chief Honey and Director Byars consulted with a Georgia-based OB/GYN who has performed over 9,000 labor deliveries and is also an expert.
On Jan. 18, 2024, Chief Honey contacted a private forensic pathologist to review the findings and case files (over 600 pages) and information gathered from the OB/GYNs to determine the cause, manner and other significant conditions in the death of Treveon Taylor.
What happens next?
Homicide means that the death was caused by the actions of another person. It is a general term and may refer to a noncriminal act as well as the criminal act of murder.
The Clayton County ME says the case is still being investigated by the Clayton County Police Department with the possibility that it may be referred to the District Attorney's Office.
FOX 5 has reached out to the family's attorneys for a statement.
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