NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville prosecutor has been fired after reports surfaced that he made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations in some cases.
Former Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren confirmed Wednesday that he was fired from the Davidson County District Attorney’s office. He declined to comment specifically on his dismissal, and officials would not say what prompted his firing.
The firing came after The Associated Press reported that the invasive surgery was part of plea bargain talks at least four times in the past five years in child abuse and neglect cases. The most recent of those cases was first reported by The Tennessean newspaper.
That case involved a woman with a 20-year history of mental illness who had been charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby mysteriously died. Her defense attorney said Holmgren wouldn’t go forward with a plea deal to keep the woman out of prison unless she had the surgery.
District Attorney General Glenn Funk, who came to the office in September, banned the practice after the mentally ill woman’s lawyer complained to him late last year. Funk said he was not aware of any other cases.
The cases evoke a dark corner of American history where the mentally ill, minorities and those deemed “deficient” were forced to undergo surgery so they could not have children.
Holmgren, who has been both praised and fiercely criticized for his aggressive courtroom tactics on behalf of children, said he routinely asked abusers and mothers who gave birth to infants who test positive for drugs to go on birth control. A court could not order someone to take birth control, so defendants in those cases would have to consent to such a condition.
But the case of 36-year-old Jasmine Randers, a woman with a history of fleeing mental institutions and the people who tried to help her, proved particularly vexing, he said.
“I had significant concerns that this woman could cause harm to a fetus or a baby if she got pregnant again,” Holmgren said. He didn’t trust her to take birth control, and her history worried him.
Randers stabbed herself in the stomach when she was pregnant in 2004 and then was arrested at the Nashville airport after making threats to her unborn child when she was pregnant again in 2012, he said. She was under court supervision for her mental illness when she fled her home state of Minnesota and gave birth to a baby in 2012 that would die five days later in Nashville.
The cause of the girl’s death was undetermined, but Holmgren said investigators could not find any sign that she had provided diapers or formula for the infant in Nashville after giving birth to the girl in Arkansas.
Randers has since been found not guilty by reason of insanity and is confined to an institution.
With other cases, Holmgren said he has never told a woman that she has to undergo sterilization to get a plea dea, but he acknowledged it was discussed on some occasions. He said sometimes a defendant would want to undergo the procedure.
Funk would not give a reason for Holmgren’s departure. He did say that he was faced with a backlog of more than 130 child abuse cases that had been sitting in the office, some as far back as to 2010. He said he was instituting new procedures to make sure they didn’t languish in the system.