WEST MELBOURNE, Fla. – A mother who knew her son was being repeatedly abused and did online searches about child head injuries is now facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the 3-year-old boy’s death, according to the West Melbourne Police Department.
Erica Dotson was arrested Tuesday, on what would have been her son’s 4th birthday.
Records show Dotson left her son, Jameson Nance, in the care of her boyfriend, Joshua Andrew Manns, during the early morning hours on June 11 while she went to work.
Around 6 p.m., the couple spoke on the phone about purchasing a puppy.
“Manns called Dotson as if nothing was wrong. They discussed about going to look for a puppy to bring home. We know based on the medical examiner’s report that young Jameson was already deceased during this conversation,” West Melbourne police Sgt. Graig Erenstoft said.
Manns called about an hour later, when Dotson normally leaves to come home from work, and told her not to drive and that her son had drowned and had likely died, according to Erenstoft.
Dotson got off the phone, called 911 and rushed home and tried to help the boy, but police said he was already dead by that point.
“My boyfriend just called me and said he had a seizure while my 4-year-old was in that bath and that he’s not breathing,” Dotson said in the call.
Officers said they noticed the boy’s face was swollen and had obvious signs of trauma. They also said they found several open containers of children’s Tylenol and cold compresses that appeared to show that someone tried to treat the child at home.
Manns fled the scene, leaving behind a note claiming that he suffered a seizure while giving the boy a bath and when he came to, the boy was floating in the tub.
“On June 14, an autopsy shared with investigators what Jameson could not. There was no water in Jameson’s lungs. He did not drown. Based on the medical examiner’s findings, Jameson suffered through and experienced significant pain and abuse over a three-week span, ultimately ending with his death,” Erenstoft said.
According to the affidavit, officers tried to use Manns’ cellphone to locate him, but it had been turned off. However, they said they were able to determine that he had likely left the home where the boy was found at least an hour prior to calling the child’s mother.
Records show Manns was arrested in Georgia on June 29.
Police said they investigated Dotson’s involvement as well and determined that while she may not have beaten the boy, she knew he was being harmed and did nothing to protect him.
“A mother is supposed to protect her children. I mean, they’re supposed to be the person who looks after you when nobody else will and here we have a case where a mother did the exact opposite. You know, had no concern, and... didn’t take the steps she should have to protect her child. And it’s awful. It’s horrifying,” Erenstoft said.
He said Dotson would lie and make up stories to explain Nance’s injuries and had been doing internet searches about child head injuries days before her son’s death.
“She continued to leave Jameson with Manns, continued to keep Jameson from public view, (because) if he was seen, law enforcement or DCF would be contacted. She feared what would happen if law enforcement found out about her failure to protect her child. She knew Manns was violent with her son and did nothing to help Jameson. Had she protected her child, like a mother should, we would be celebrating a birthday instead of seeking justice,” Erenstoft said.
Records show Dotson claimed Nance fell while running when his leg was broken in 2019 and then in March, when he suffered another broken leg, she said he stepped off a curb. Police said workers at Nance’s day care become suspicious of all the injuries.
“Jameson told day care staff Manns was the reason for the burns on his arm. Jameson would also tell them that Manns would strike him if he was too loud or if he woke Manns or his mother,” Erenstoft said.
The Department of Children and Families was contacted about Nance’s injuries. He stopped attending the day care on June 2 and on that last day, he arrived with an injury to his face that Dotson claimed was from being attacked by a duck, according to authorities.
“The horror this child in a short life lived continued and continued until his body said, ‘No more,’” Erenstoft said.
Dotson was arrested Tuesday on a first-degree murder charge. Manns was taken into custody last month and faces charges of first-degree premeditated murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect with great bodily harm.
Dotson is a certified nursing assistant at Health First. A spokesperson for the health care provider said Dotson’s employment as a hospital CNA has been suspended.
“Health First is deeply saddened by the senseless and tragic death of Jameson Nance,” Health First spokesman Lance Skelly said in a statement. “The Center for Child Development is committed to providing a safe learning environment, as well as the support, training, and education for the children’s development. Erica Dotson’s employment as a hospital CNA has been suspended, and we are diligently working with local authorities to assist in the investigation.”
Police said the investigation is ongoing.