Jessica Aldama, an unhoused woman who was found dead with her newborn this fall at a Boulder encampment, died from complications of delivery, according to an autopsy released Tuesday. The baby was stillborn, the report said, found in a blanket next to Aldama.
Aldama, 33, was found by Boulder police officers in a tent near Boulder open space on Oct. 11. Police did not disclose that a baby was found with her until Oct. 27, following media and community inquiries.
The official cause of death was listed as complications associated with stillbirth delivery.
“Shock and/or sepsis (blood infection) was the most likely complication leading to her death,” the autopsy reads, “as women with stillbirth deliveries are 14 times more likely than women with live births to go into shock or develop sepsis.”
All information up to this point had come from the police department, by way of the Boulder Daily Camera.
Officers reported that they initially encountered the then-pregnant Aldama at an encampment on Sept. 9 and transported her to the Clinica Family Health People’s Clinic. Officers encountered her again two weeks later, according to their reports, and again transported her to the People’s Clinic, where a provider referred her to Boulder Community Health.
City officials declined to release police reports associated with Aldama until the coroner’s report was finalized. On Wednesday, a report from the Sept. 9 encounter revealed that officers ticketed Aldama and a male companion for camping on public property and possessing a tent — something left out of the official account given to media and members of the public.
Aldama was fined $50 and ordered to appear in court on Sept. 21, according to an image of the ticket included in the report.
Boulder’s city council banned tents on public property in late July, via emergency vote. Proponents argued that it would make it easier to prevent camping on public lands; advocates for the unhoused worried that it would further disrupt the lives of those living on the streets and make them less likely to trust in the system or seek services.
Several studies back up those claims. In a 2019 review of previously published research, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wrote: “The literature and key informants, however, agree that sweeps of encampments do little to increase shelter usage or otherwise resolve the problem of encampments. … Especially in communities with many low-visibility places, people are likely to simply pack up and move on to another location … or reestablish the encampment at the former site once the city has cleaned the area.”
The ticket shows that Aldama was at Martin Park, near U.S. 36 and Eastman Avenue in south Boulder. Her body was discovered one month later at an encampment near 5847 Arapahoe Ave., some three miles away.
City spokeswoman Sarah Huntley on Wednesday said the police department had concluded its investigation into Aldama’s death.
“In light of the coroner’s report, the Boulder Police Department has closed its investigation into the death of Jessica Aldama and her baby, having found no criminal aspect involved,” Huntley said in a statement. “The family has asked that we not discuss her death, and we will respect their wishes.”
Huntley also declined to answer questions about police interactions with Aldama prior to her death.
Public counts of Boulder County’s unhoused population do not track how many pregnant women are homeless. Providers say there are several each year living on the streets or entering emergency shelter.
Aldama’s baby is the third reported fetal death among the unhoused in Boulder County since 2014, when the coroner’s office began tracking deaths of homeless residents. Several factors that increase the risk of stillbirth and/or maternal complications are exacerbated by homelessness, including poor access to prenatal care and discrimination within the health system itself.
A seven-year study from Massachusetts found that unhoused pregnant people “were more than twice as likely to experience a complication that affected their health during birth and almost twice as likely to have an early or threatened labor or a hemorrhage during pregnancy” than housed pregnant people.
Drug use, another risk factor for stillbirths, was not cited as a factor in Aldama’s death. The autopsy does note Aldama’s history of “unspecified substance abuse” and that drug paraphernalia was found at the scene.
“I’m not saying Jessica wasn’t culpable for her situation,” said Diane Boatman, a friend of the family who herself was previously unhoused, at a Nov. 4 memorial for Aldama and her baby. “But she needed help. We didn’t do enough. This community didn’t do enough.
“They have the blood of babies on their hands.”
On Thursday, ACLU Colorado sent a letter to several Boulder officials and all nine members of city council asking that they temporarily stop enforcement of the city’s ban on tents and unsheltered living, citing the more than 30 people who have been denied emergency shelter as Boulder Shelter for the Homeless exceeds capacity.
Boulder Reporting Lab reported on Wednesday that more people had been turned away in the last week due to overcapacity than all of last winter.
“As you know, this summer, the ACLU cautioned the City of Boulder that it plainly violates the Constitution to punish people for sleeping outside when they lack meaningful access to indoor shelter,” ACLU attorney Anna Kurtz wrote, citing a 2019 court ruling that was affirmed by the Supreme Court. “We repeat that warning here: ‘the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.'”
“These unacceptable losses” — the “heartbreaking and horrifying deaths” of Aldama and her baby — “must be a wake-up call to the City that treating our unhoused neighbors as criminals can be deadly,” Kurtz wrote.
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