October 25, 2021

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Erica Dotson, Joshua Manns Charged with Murdering 3-Year-Old

Erica Dotson and Joshua Manns

A Florida boyfriend and girlfriend are both charged with various types of murder and other counts of abuse in connection with the death last month of the girlfriend’s 3-year-old child. A lengthy police report on the matter contains text messages between the couple, observations from day care workers, and notes from an autopsy which allege that the boy suffered weeks of abuse before dying in the couple’s care. At one point, the couple even blamed a duck attack for some of the boy’s injuries.

What follows is a recitation of allegations contained in a various police and court records, which you can read for yourself at the bottom of this report.

According to court records in Brevard County, Erica Beth Dotson, 27, of West Melbourne, Fla., is charged with premeditated first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse. All three charges are felonies. Her boyfriend, Joshua Andrew Manns, 25, of West Melbourne, Fla., is charged with child neglect with great bodily harm, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated child abuse. Again, all three charges are felonies.

According to the documents, West Melbourne, Fla. police officers responded on June 11th to a 911 call about “child not breathing” at an apartment complex. They met Dotson on a set of stairs. Dotson was carrying the victim, who is later identified in court records as Jameson Nance.

Jameson Nance. (Image via WKMG-TV screengrab.)

“The Patrol Supervisor immediately determined the child was deceased, as rigor mortis had set in,” the documents say. “The child appeared to be bruised significantly, his face was swollen and there were obvious signs of trauma.”

A criminal investigation ensued.

Manns allegedly called an individual whose name is blacked out of the available police records to tell her that the child wasn’t “good.” Manns later told the individual that the baby was either dead or was likely dead after having drowned. The individual called 911 while “frantically driving” to the apartment; she “arrived only moments before police and found the child on the bathroom floor.”

Operators tried to reach Manns by phone to provide CPR instructions but learned he “had already left the area.”

Joshua Manns

“A hand written note was found in the apartment, apparently left by Manns,” the police records continue. “The note, among other things, stated that Manns suffered a seizure while the child was in the bathtub and when Manns awoke the child was floating in the tub.”

“Manns went on to say that he attempted CPR and ‘nothing worked,”” according to the police report. “Investigators made observations about the apartment that there were empty bottles of children’s Tylenol and dosing cups all over the apartment, as well as rags wrapped around bags of water as if they had been frozen and used as cold compresses.”

The document continues to explain what heightened the responding officers’ suspicions:

The observations led investigators to believe that the child may have been receiving treatment at home, rather than being taken to a clinic, doctor or hospital. The condition of the child’s swollen face would almost certainly cause any doctor or nurse seeing his condition to call law enforcement for suspected abuse. Before paramedics arrived the child’s body was observed with his left arm sticking straight up, his head extremely swollen and severe bruising to his right eye, contusions on his forehead, as well as other bruising on the face and jaw.

The Brevard County Medical Examiner’s Office “responded to the scene and estimated the child had likely been dead 6 to 8 hours earlier,” the police report says. That would place the child’s time of death at between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. The initial call to the authorities came in at 7:21 p.m.

Cell phone data suggested to the authorities that Manns had fled to Orlando, about an hour and fifteen minutes northwest of West Melbourne.

Joshua Manns

An autopsy revealed that the child suffered from “very significant injuries” dating back as far as three weeks before the date of death.

There were significant observations of bruising, hemorrhaging and blood clots with varying degrees of evidence of healing or attempts for the body to heal. A large amount of the hemorrhaging was in the head and optic nerves, which included or caused significant brain swelling. The head was markedly boggy (swollen, soft, spongy and doughy). In addition to this were other injuries such as: a broken tooth, which was broken and “pushed into” the gums, a laceration to the jaw, a right rib fracture, left lower arm fracture, rupture to the esophagus, sharp impact injuries to the head, which included a single stab wound of the upper scalp and 6 stab wounds (3 fresh & 3 healing) to the right scalp. The cause of death was due to Battered Baby Syndrome due to repeated sharp and blunt impact bodily injuries, and the manner of death was Homicide. The child’s body suffered cardiac arrest due to the numerous injuries including to the internal hemorrhages of the thyroid gland, heart, and lungs from repeated impacts. There was no evidence of drowning found.

Investigators found out that the child “suffered a broken leg (tibia)” in Feb. 2019; the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) looked into the matter. The child was said to have been running and tripped over his biological father’s legs. Some of the information contained in the public police report is blacked out, and subsequent paragraphs indicate the biological father was “cut off” by an unknown person from seeing the child — despite wanting to be involved in the son’s life.

The child broke his left leg on March 25, 2021, reportedly by tripping and falling off of a curb. Emergency room workers contacted DCF “due to history and concerns of possible non-accidental trauma again,” the reports state. The outcome of any DCF investigation is unclear from the police report. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy “opined that tripping or falling off a curb would not cause the broken bones,” the police report added.

Erica Dotson

DCF investigators did note that daycare providers saw “suspicious” injuries on the child’s body but that the injuries “were not fully investigated or properly reported to DCF.”

“Among these incidents were reports that the child had made disclosures to the daycare staff that Manns had caused a burn on his harm (not reported) and that Manns would strike him in the head if he was too loud and woke him or [redacted] up,” the police report says.

The child last attended the day care on June 2, 2021, and was observed with “injuries to his face.”

When confronted, an individual whose name is redacted in the report said “the family had been spending time by the pond and the child fell, rolled into or near the water and was attacked by a duck,” the police report says.

On June 11, the date the child died, a downstairs neighbor told police that “heavy banging” could be heard “throughout the morning.” Moreover:

They described the nose in that it sounded like a bowling ball being thrown around. They could not recall hearing any screaming, yelling or crying and as such did not report this unusual noise to anyone. This would have been the day and time that Manns was left home with the child, while [redacted] was at work.

Manns reportedly took the morning of June 11th off from work for a COVID-19 vaccination and took a “planned medical leave of absence” starting that day, the police report says. Due to scheduling patterns, Manns last worked on May 27, and Dotson told the daycare after June 2nd that the child would no longer be attending for the remainder of the summer.

The police report suggests that daycare staff would confront Dotson about the boy’s injuries but that her replies “did not make sense.”

Though portions of the document are blacked out, the police report suggests that the child attempted to state that “Josh [Manns] hit me” while visiting with appears to be a relative last Christmas. Dotson accused the boy of lying and said his biological father had been abusing him — not Manns.

Erica Dotson

Text messages tell part of the story of the relationship between Dotson and Manns — which included expressing “love and support of each other” in the midst of conversations about the victim child.

“While many of their text messages ended with ‘I love you’ to each other, during the texts the child victim was referred to as a ‘jerk’ or ‘sorry he’s being suck [sic] a dick,’” the police report indicates.

More of the couple’s text messages describe conversations which led up to one of the child’s broken legs, the police reports say.

“It’s OK he just made me really mad because he was screaming at the top of his lungs when I told him to go to bed,” Dotson said on March 23 starting at about 9:13 p.m.  “He doesn’t listen to me and then he gets mad at me about it.”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” Manns said.  “I’m sorry he’s like that to you.”

“Yea he’s totally find when you’re around,” Dotson said.

Another text chain occurred on March 24th.

“That sounds super nice babe,” Dotson said to Manns.  “Try to sleep earlier because getting [redacted, but presumably another child] in the morning is a lot of work.  At least with me he’s super whiny and always complains about what I fix him for breakfast or how cold it is.”

“Wow shy [sic] do you put up with that? Lol,” Manns replied.  “Just put him in timeout for like one literal minute and he calms down.

“He doesn’t calm down with me,” Dotson aid.

After the child broke his leg on March 25th and while Dotson was in the hospital, she texted Manns to complain that it was “packed as fuck” in the emergency room and that she was worried the broken bone was “gonna come up in court” in a proceeding between Dotson and the boy’s father.

“Nah,” Manns replied.  “I think it’ll be fine.”

“I mean yeah it sucks because he’s hurt, and I feel really bad for him,” Manns continued.  “But I mean it was obviously an accident.”

“I’m just scared for us all right now,” Dotson replied.

“Scared?” Manns inquired.

Dotson said she was “traumatized” from the last broken bone and feeling “added stress” because she was sure the incident would “come up in court.”

“What if it’s a really bad break and he needs surgery?” Dotson said.

She then opined that she couldn’t afford the bills.

“Baby I doubt it’s that serious,” Manns said. “He fell a few inches. Yeah it’s still bad enough to hurt him, but it’s doubtful that he would need surgery.”

In the early morning hours of March 26, the following conversation occurred.

Dotson:  “It’s another spiral fracture.”

Manns:  “What?  Oh my god . . . What the fuckkk.”

Dotson:  “Like clean the whole house up because CPS will be there in the morning.”

Manns:  “Do you wanna call me?”

Dotson: “Just like any personal stuff.  No I’ll call you when we get done.”

Manns: “Is it bad?  What are they saying?”

Dotson: “The doctor had asked me a second time where we were again.  Nothing really I had to ask what happened and which bones.  They have it wrapped up idk if they’ll do the cast here or not.”

Manns:  “I’m confused they are sending CPS here in the morning?”

Dotson: And of course he has a black eye. Idk that’s what happened last time. Spiral fractures are like that man they’re super common for child abuse. That’s what they said last time.

Manns:  You need to call the daycare tomorrow and tell them you need a report from that black eye.

Dotson: I asked and they said they didn’t see it and when they asked [redacted] he said it was from the bathtub.

More text messages were exchanged half an hour later.

Dotson: “They’re admitting him. Idk what’s going on. They’re getting the doctor.”

Manns: “I should have came with you. I’m sorry man. You can call me whenever you want to. I hope he’s okay.”

Dotson: “Tt’s both bones. They’re admitting him.”

Manns: “I told the doctor about the hair falling out and how this doesn’t make sense and I said the same thing last time.”

That following afternoon, after the boy was discharged, Dotson texted Mann that the boy was “being such a jerk.” Manns suggested “he’ll go in timeout” for complaining about the pain associated with the broken bone — then the two conversed about how a timeout would be accomplished with a boy with broken leg.

Further text messages suggested caring for the child would cost too much.

Erica Dotson is seen in an image embedded within a police arrest warrant.

In others, Dotson complained she was “exhausted,” that the boy has “just constantly worn me the fuck out,” that the boy exhibited “constant talking, interrupting, disagreeing with me, wanting attention, and needing me to get up and get him something every three seconds.”

The couple complained to one another on April 29 that the boy was struggling to walk after his cast was removed, the documents say. They also describe another conversation complaining of a “further injury” to the leg — as Manns complained that he “hadn’t even had any Juul pods” (vaping liquids) that day.

“So I can’t deal with this anymore,” Manns said. “Like he spazzed out.”

Dotson asked if Manns needed any more Juul pods or Red Bull energy drinks. Manns said he was “okay.”

On May 4th, Dotson complained that the boy wouldn’t listen to her and kept trying to put weight on his leg.  His condition appeared to be deteriorating.

“Baby can you chill the fuck out?” Manns responded.

On May 5th, Dotson suggested getting the child a boot that would help him — “he doesn’t like his splint.”

On May 7th, the child had noticeable bruises, the reports say.  Later that day, Manns said the boy was vomiting and throwing a temper tantrum while he himself was trying to take a nap.  Manns claimed he was trying to “save” the boy’s leg as the boy was “stomp[ing] the ground.”

Later, Manns said he gave the boy Tylenol and Motrin to try to reduce swelling.

In other text messages that same day, Dotson asked Manns how the boy chipped his tooth.  Manns said he “didn’t remember” the boy complaining about it before.

“And did you look in the mirror and tell yourself what a fucking winner you are?” Dotson asked Manns.

The reply wasn’t apparently in the police report.

That evening — May 8th — Dotson texted Manns that the boy’s leg looked “super bad,” “yellow,” and that his “heel is still really bad off.”  But she claimed the boy’s doctor considered some of those symptoms “normal” while wondering if the boy was in pain.

Joshua Manns appears in an image embedded within a police search warrant.

Manns’ mood was far from ameliorative.

“Bro can you go like an hour without making everything seem so helpless?” he said. “Like why can’t we just be happy his leg is getting better? Why does it always have to be so negative man. Shit he was crying at the thought of walking and he chose to stand on it? That’s fucking progress man. Be proud of him and stop projecting your own phobias on [redacted] man. Tell him I love him and I’m proud of him. I’ll see y’all tonight. I got enough to deal with, I don’t have time to deal with anymore negative shit than I have to today.”

On May 12th, Dotson texted a picture to Manns saying that the boy had been “standing here for a few minutes.”  There was “no boot” on the “injured leg,” the police report says. A video clip subsequently indicated that the child said his “skin was hurting” while touching his left leg. The boy then tried to get into a chair while saying “stand for Josh, right?” The police report which recapped the entire episode noted that an “obvious bruise” was on the boy’s forehead.

“Tell him I’m so proud of him,” Manns said back.

At 8:00 that same night, Dotson asked Manns why there was blood on the boy’s hair and pillow.

“I honestly don’t know man I haven’t been home a lot lol,” Manns responded.

On May 18th, Dotson said the boy “didn’t use his wheelchair at all” that day and “walked up the stairs.”

Future texts on May 25th indicated that the boy was “having more symptoms,” “sleeping more,” complained of his “stomach hurting,” and that the boy was “drenched in sweat,” the police report says; Dotson “complains about the victim’s temper” while Manns claims the boy “fell when he was stomping on the door during a rampage.”

On May 26th, the boy complained about his “foot hurting” and “wouldn’t walk,” the text messages indicate.

“I didn’t leave the wheelchair even though he was crying and asking for it,” Dotson said with reference to the daycare.

On May 28th, Manns texted Dotson that the boy had a “complete meltdown” for “like one hour.”

“Like I just heard shit getting thrown around,” Manns claimed. “I honestly just said ‘fuck it.’”

The texts indicated the boy had injuries to “his poor forehead and cheek.”

“There [sic] both so big and I can’t believe my sleepy ass didn’t realize how bad it looked until last night,” Manns said of those injuries.

He also said he was “terrified” to take the child to the pool.

Other potentially new injuries were on the boy’s legs, the messages indicated.

On May 29th, Manns asked Dotson whether a bike ride would be warranted.

“[J]ust stick next to him so that if he falls you can catch him before he lands on this left leg,” she said.

“[I]f anything I’ll just let him run around,” Manns said later.

That’s when the text messages about the duck began.

Manns:  “[Redacted, but presumably the boy’s name] ran from a duck.  And like tumble rolled down the sidewalk.”

Dotson:  “And like . . . the duck chased him?  Is he ok?”

Manns:  Yeah, he definitely fucked himself up but not like serious.  His leg is fine too.”

Dotson:  Is he bleeding?  Scraped up?

Manns:  He’s fine.  He’s probably gonna be bruised up for sure.  He literally hit the ground rolling.  I had to like jump over him and stop him from going in the lake.

Dotson:  Oh my gosh.  Was it hilarious or scary?

Manns:  The duck did that stupid ass hissing shit and flapped his wings and bro just hit the flintstones feet, but forgot he was [redacted] so he made it all of 20 feet before he ate shit.  It was scary as fuck at first because he like smacked the sidewalk and like sonic the hedgehog rolled toward the lake.  But after I caught him and made sure he was fine I definitely laughed.  He didn’t appreciate that.  The only place he was bleeding from was his ear.  And that scab busted on his hiad.

Dotson:  Oh my gosh . . . How is he handling it?  Did you give him some Tylenol already?

Manns:  Yeah I did.  He’s fine though.  I’m just not prepared for how many bruises he’s gonna get from this lmao.  Like I don’t see any yet except by his poor little ear.  It was such a tiny cut but it was like the tip of it basically so it bled a little more and he like freaked out at first but calmed down when we got cleaned up.

On June 2nd, the last day the child was seen in public, text messages indicated that the boy’s daycare knew he was “in a lot of pain.”

On June 3rd, texts said the boy was “super sweaty” and slept late.

On June 5th, only a few messages were exchanged, according to the police report.

“Man I love you,” Manns told Dotson.

“I love you too,” Dotson replied.

On June 6th, no text messages were exchanged.

On June 7th, the couple discussed the boy’s eye being “swollen shut.” Manns said the boy “woke up and he was obviously scared,” so he put ice on the boy’s eye.

On June 8th, the boy was described as “sluggish.”

On June 9th, both of the boy’s eyes were swollen, but Manns claimed the boy could see out of both. Dotson wanted Manns to send her a picture of the boy’s eyes or do a video chat over a lunch break. Manns “doesn’t want anyone else to possibly see the picture,” the police report says.

“I don’t want anybody to see him over my shoulder,” Dotson said — agreeing that pictures should not be shared.

Eventually, Manns sent Dotson a picture which was “mostly blacked out, using some type of app on the phone to cover the victim’s face except for two small angled openings over the victim’s eyes,” the police report says.

That night, Dotson suggested disciplining the child because he appeared to have “pooped himself and lied about it.”  She accused her son of “fucking around like he always does.”

June 10th was Manns’ birthday. The two talked about a gift and about disciplining the child.

“He’s safe man shit,” Manns replied when Dotson asked for pictures of the boy while she was at work. But he also said the boy was “being a dick” — “[l]ike throwing stuff and not listening.”

On June 11th, the couple discussed using stimulus money originally set aside for a trip to a theme park to instead buy a $1,500 puppy.

Manns said he’d been “sleeping” and didn’t reply to texts from Dotson until 3:34 p.m.  Dotson was busy sending Manns pictures of puppies.

“Whenever you clock out will you call me baby” Manns said to Dotson at 6:15 p.m. “Also that collie is adorable.”

Dotson called Manns at 7:11 p.m., the police report states. He called her back at 7:12. The two spoke for nearly seven minutes. Dotson called 911 at 7:19 p.m.

Over the the approximately one month preceding the boy’s death, Dotson had searched for the following phrases:

hematoma on scalp

knot on head toddler

salt water rinse for tooth

how long for a loose tooth to tighten up

toddler loose tooth after fall

duck florida red neck

Muscovy duck

three year old constantly injuring himself

children in foster care being abused

number of unknown children being abused

number of children up for adoption

will i get back pay child support

taking paternal rights away

why is my child support case taking so long

child support back pay florida

child support back

child custody other parent delaying paperwork but not filing

child custody when the filing parent doesnt cooperate with paperwork deadlines

“It should also be noted that Erica and Joshua definitely discussed different stories about how and when certain injuries occurred but between verbal statements during interviews and text messages nothing appeared to line up or be consistent,” the police report says. “There is evidence to support the facts of Erica knowing about these life threatening injuries to include web searches of head injuries in children days before the death and she continued to leave the child with Joshua and continued to keep [redacted] from the view of the public as they knew law enforcement or DCF would be contacted.”

“After the aggravated child abuse to the victim’s leg on March 25, causing broken bones in his leg, the child never fully recovered, the child was made to stand or walk on that leg, causing more injury to the leg, while the child was inflicted with more injuries, for not listening, for pooping in his pants, and for lying,” the police narrative continues. “The additional aggravated child abuse were inflicted injuries of head trauma and impact injuries upon his body causing internal hemorrhaging, and were acute and chronic, causing his death due to Battered Baby Syndrome.”

This report is based on the following 24-page police document:

[images via Brevard County, Fla. jail mugshots, except as noted]

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