In an appearance before the Palm Coast City Council late last month, Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre startled some listeners when he described the extent to which deputies’ shifts can be dominated by issues that may have little to do with law enforcement and a lot to do with mental health: deputies, Manfre said, are conducting between 30 to 40 Baker Act interventions a month. That’s the name of the Florida law that empowers police to seize individuals who may harm themselves or others, and deliver them to a psychiatric ward, usually against the individuals’ will, in Daytona Beach.
The number of Baker Acts may be high, but it is a reflection of a statewide trend that has seen commitments under the Baker Act increase by a third over the past decade. All ages, races and economic backgrounds are affected. Last week, the case of a 7-year-old girl Baker Acted after she allegedly became violent with the dean of students at Belle Terre Elementary School drew significant attention and shed light on why and how children that young may also be Baker Acted.
Earlier this week, in barely a 24-hour period between late Monday afternoon and the early evening of Tuesday (March 3 and 4), deputies were involved in four commitments under the Baker Act. It was an unusually high number of commitments in such a short span. But each one is illustrative of the variety of mental health situations deputies are confronting, compelling them to make the determination between simply diffusing a situation, making an arrest or carrying out a Baker Act. The 24-hour period is also illustrative of Manfre’s point to the council last month: local governments are going to have to become more aware of mental health issues in their communities and begin to think about developing diversionary programs similar to one in Orlando, where the drug-court model is being applied to mental health courts.
The four cases outlined below are based on police reports.
The first case took place just before 5 p.m. on Monday. Deputies and paramedics responded to a house on Karas
Trail in Palm Coast, regarding a 21-year-old woman who had possibly overdosed.
The woman had consumed approximately 8 ounces of liquid cough syrup (Dextromethorphan), and she’d told paramedics that she’d done so in an attempt to kill herself. The woman’s mother told police she’d been Baker Acted eight times prior to this occasion, and that over the weekend, she had attempted suicide twice—once by using a plastic grocery bag, and the second time with a kitchen knife.
The woman was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler where she could be medically cleared for transport under the Baker Act.
Later that evening, at 9:56 p.m., deputies were called to an R-Section home, on Raintree Place, in Palm Coast, to assist the Palm Coast Fire Department and Flagler County Fire Rescue. When a deputy arrived there, a 52-year-old man was lying in a fetal position in the bathtub facing away from responders. He appeared severely intoxicated and was combative with paramedics.
He’d written a note to his wife that said, “I love you,” with his signature. It wasn’t his habit to do so, his wife told responders, but the couple had recently lost their home and he’d lost his job. He is bipolar and has been very depressed.
As his wife spoke to responders, he resumed yelling at paramedics, saying, “Leave me alone, I just want to die.” He turned the faucet to pour water in the tub. The deputy turned the water off. He turned it on again, then “started banging his left arm against the tile wall where I could observe fresh cut marks on his wrists.” the deputy wrote in the incident report. “I then grabbed his left arm and he banged his head against the tile wall,” at which time two deputies secured him in handcuffs while he was still in the tub.
On the way to Halifax hospital, where Baker Act commitments take place, the victim began to move around in the back seat of the patrol car, falling to the floorboard and screaming that he was stuck, his wrists hurting. The deputy pulled off I-95 at the U.S. 1 exit where, along with a Volusia County Sheriff’s deputy, “we pulled [the victim] out of the car, sat him back up and secured him with a seat belt to keep him from thrashing around again.” At Halifax, the man, the report states, “began going crazy and hospital security and staff had to restrain him to his bed with four point restraints.”
In his talk to the Palm Coast Council, Manfre had spoken of a grant the Sheriff’s Office secured that would enable deputies no longer to make the drive to Volusia County, but to drop off individuals committed under the Baker Act at a location in Flagler where they would be further evaluated and transported by mental health personnel, thus letting deputies get back to their beats quicker. But that process is not yet in effect, Sheriff’s Spokesman Bob Weber said this week.
A little after 5 a.m. On Tuesday, a situation was developing on the southbound side of I-95 at mile marker 278. Several sheriff’s units responded. A 31-year-old man was telling deputies that he was Jesus Christ and the president of the United States, among other things. He then told one deputy that his father (the victim’s father) had “opened the gates of Hell.”
The man had been driving a a 2008 Suzuki Forenza. It was partly burned. The man had set fire to the front seat with a cigarette, prompting a call to fire rescue personnel. When a deputy initially arrived on scene, the interior of the car was on fire and the driver was trying to open the trunk. Since he was acting suspiciously, he was handcuffed.
A Flagler County Fire Rescue unit put out the fire. The vehicle was registered to the man’s father, who, contacted by phone in Jacksonville—where father and son live—told deputies that his son had permission to use the vehicle (thus removing any criminal motive in the unfolding incident) and that he had a long history of mental illness. A Baker Act then followed.
Later Tuesday, at 7:11 p.m, deputies were faced with a suicidal 15-year-old boy in Palm Coast. He’d run away and told his mother by phone that he wanted to kill himself. He wouldn’t tell her where he was. He said he was upset because he had an argument with his girlfriend earlier in the day. His mothjer told deputies that he’d made similar threats in the past but that she’d never reported it.
While deputies were at his house, the boy returned home and went to his room. He spoke with a deputy, telling him he’d had an argument with his girlfriend and with his brother, and said that “he did tell his mother he hopes she enjoys his funeral because he wanted to harm himself.” He said he did not know why he’d made those comments to his mother, and that he was very confused.
A Baker Act was initiated. Being 15, he was to be taken to Halifax Behavioral Center, but the facility was full. The boy was instead taken to Halifax hospital’s psychiatric facility.