Mason Brown’s step brother had reported him missing Thursday when he spoke with a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy at the Country Store in west Bunnell. Karl Szulc, 32, told the deputy Brown had a scheduled court appearance that day at 10 a.m., and that he’d wait to see if Brown would turn up before filling out missing-person forms.
Szulc filled out the papers at 11:30 a.m. Deputy Kyle Gaddie entered Brown into the National Crime Information Center/Florida Crime Information Center databases (NCIC/FCIC) as missing.
Gaddie was still on the call when he heard the 911 dispatch center issue an alert about a water rescue in progress in a pond near Zonal Geranium Trail and Belle Terre Boulevard in Palm Coast. Dispatch relayed information about the tag to the silver 2002 Saturn found at the scene, and that was believed to belong to the man in the water: it was Brown’s car.
And it was no rescue. The man was lifeless.
The man in the pond was about 40 yards offshore, face down and unclothed. He would soon be identified as Mason Brown, 28, of Mahogany Boulevard in Daytona North, also known as the Mondex.
The sheriff’s Marine unit retrieved Brown’s body and confirmed his identity through markings and other physical features. “On scene empty inhalant bottles were located consistent with Mason’s drug of choice,” the sheriff’s report states. His clothing was located along the water’s edge, near the vehicle.
Brown was, in fact, scheduled to be in drug court, before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, Thursday morning at 10 a.m. He joined drug court last August in a plea agreement after facing drug charges. But Brown, the father of a young son, was facing getting thrown out of drug court after prematurely leaving a treatment center, the revocation of his probation, and a sentence in state prison.
Brown on Thursday became the third member of drug court in the last four years to die, the second by overdose if, as officials suspect, inhalants were the reason. All three had been either in jail or in a rehabilitation program just days earlier.
Completion of drug court enables the participant to have his or her charges dropped at graduation. But it’s a demanding, grueling and often very lengthy process. Along the way participants often develop tight bonds, referring to each other as members of the same family. The judge conducts drug court sessions with all participants present. They witness each other’s successes and stumbles, encourage and root for each other–and react with powerful emotions when a member of drug court fails out, as some do, or worse. Not just the participants: the judges feel the losses too.
Perkins certainly did last year when, before a February session last year, he addressed the drug court participants in a more fatherly way, foregoing his judicial robe and seating participants around a table after the death of Anthony Fennick, a recent drug court participant. Perkins had actually failed the 23 year old out of drug court and sent back him to jail after Fennick tested positive for a drug, though Fennick–who had a young child–had been in drug court for over a year. Weeks later at the county jail, he developed a fever and an allergic reaction under spotty–his mother says a criminal lack of–supervision from the contracted health provider at the jail, was taken to the hospital barely conscious, and soon became brain dead. He died days later. A recently completed investigation found no criminal wrongdoing. His memorial at the beach drew several friends from drug court.
In November 2017, Savannah Deangelis, 23, died of a heroin overdose just days after she had been allowed to leave the lockdown treatment facility at Project Warm in Bunnell for five days during the Hurricane Irma emergency, even though she’d not been eligible for so much as a four-hour pass previously and was at very high risk of relapse. She had in fact used a drug while she was out, admitted to it, and led Judge Dennis Craig, who was presiding over drug court at the time, to kick her out. Those familiar with Craig said he took DeAngelis’s death extremely hard. (Drug court’s calibrated system of penalties is designed to tread a gray line between tough love and harshness toward repeat offender, so that permissiveness is not interpreted as license to re-offend. At times the punishment itself can lead to the worst unintended consequence: an overdose.)
The man who allegedly sold DeAngelis’s last dose of heroin, Joseph Colon, was indicted for first degree murder the following February. His case continues. He’s due in court on Aug. 18 for a pre-trial.
Brown joined drug court in the middle of August last year, after a violation of a probation term that was not to end until August 22, though he could shorten it by graduating from drug court. He did well for over six months. He got in trouble last January when a deputy found him passed out on inhalants at the wheel of his car in circumstances almost identical to the arrest in 2018 that eventually led him to drug court. When asked in his monthly probation report whether he’d had contact with a law enforcement officer, he wrote “None,” a lie neither probation officers nor the court suffer kindly. Brown was “adamant” the inhaling was a one-time thing, according to his violation report.
He’d been sentenced to a rehab program, to which he did not want to go: he wanted to go on with drug court. He pleaded his case to Perkins, writing him 10 days into his jail stint as a son would his father–as drug court participants often see their judge.
“I know I am here today because of my own actions and I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” Brown wrote Perkins, but also as if addressing the entire drug court “team,” as he calls it later in the letter. “Sitting in jail I’ve had nothing but time to think about the stupid choice I made to get myself in the situation I’m in now with Drug Court. I know I messed up but your Honor, I just don’t quite understand why I’m getting such a harsh punishment like being up-rooted from my life and all the progress I’ve made in what’s going on to be six months now to be sent to a rehab center.”
He then described the sort of experience drug court participants often speak of, especially those who make it to graduation and speak of it at their ceremony: “Since I’ve been on drug court my life has completely changed, for the better. I finally got my job back working on the farm, y’all know that’s been one of my goals since day one in Drug Court. I finally got motivated to go back to school to get my GED, which we had just talked about me being ready to take the real test to get my GED.”
Brown then spoke of screwing up his mother’s plans: he was supposed to help her move to Palm Bay. He got in trouble instead. He insists that his violation was the only time he’d done something wrong. “I’ve got so much good going on for me that the last I want to do is mess it all up for myself,” he wrote in a neatly legible script. He wondered why other drug court participants who had “hick-ups” either got mere sanctions, had to write an essay, re-start drug court or at worst get a few days’ jail time. “I’ve yet to see anyone get sentenced to rehab?” He feared losing all he owned.
“Your honor please please please hear me out today,” Brown continued. “I’m begging you to find it in your heart to give me just one more chance before I’m just shipped off to rehab. There is a hundred punishments out there you could do, restart me in the program, take all my clean days, put me on residential challenge, make me call to see Mr. D. every day.” (All participants refer to John Dioguardi, the drug court coordinator, as Mr. D.) “If a police officer so much as waves at me I will stop what I’m doing to call and report contact with law [enforcement]. I will put this on everything I love, my son, my mother. I promise you’ll never ever have me in front of you again for such a stupid, dangerous, childish and unh-honest choice again, only for doing the right thing and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
To the drug court “team,” he wrote: You all have my word on that. If I so much as slip up one time on anything you tell me to do then hands down, no arguments about it, I deserve it. Please just give me one more chance to prove I learned from this one and only mistake. I know I can do this. And I know I can impress the Drug Court Team.”
Brown was sent to Orlando Bridge, a residential treatment program in Orlando. Court documents point to Brown still participating in drug court, at times through Zoom or through his attorney, Bill Partington.
Less than two weeks ago–on July 7–he left Orlando Bridge before completing the program “for non-compliance with Bridge rules and regulations,” according to a violation affidavit. It was another probation violation. He returned to his home on Mahogany Boulevard, according to the violation report. On July 9, the court sentenced him to three days in jail. He was booked in just after 5 p.m. that day and released last Saturday.
In a report filed with the court on Monday, Kevin Vanness, Brown’s probation officer, recommended that a warrant be issued for Brown’s arrest, that his probation be revoked, and that he be sent to state prison.
“This officer is making this recommendation,” Vaness wrote in his violation report, “due to the fact that this offender had made little or no effort while enrolled in residential drug treatment at the Orlando Bridge and was unsuccessfully discharged on 7/7/20. This officer has spoken to the treatment provider and they are amenable to this offender serving time within the Department of Corrections.”
The next time an officer of the law had contact with Brown was when he was on Thursday, when his lifeless body was pulled out of the water. Mason Dillon Brown was 28 years old.