In August 26-year-old Jerrold Burnham, a resident of 77 Radcliffe Drive in Palm Coast, was arrested for selling oxycodone within 1,000 feet of a public park in Bunnell, a first-degree felony, and possession of heroin. In September he agreed to plead to the two charges. He was to be sentenced Friday, facing the possibility of up to 41 years in prison.
That month he posted bail and bonded out. Saturday night, he was arrested again–on a felony burglary charge and two misdemeanor charges–in an incident that resulted in the hospitalization of a Bunnell police officer and a Flagler County sheriff’s deputy who had come in contact with alleged narcotics Burnham was carrying. The suspect also fell ill and lost consciousness, himself requiring brief hospitalization.
The deputies involved were the sheriff’s K-9 deputy Gibson Smith and the Bunnell Police Department’s Jennie Baker. They’d responded to a disturbance call at 210 North Fig Street, opposite Bunnell Elementary School, just after 10 p.m. on Nov. 2. Residents there told the officers that Burnham had entered uninvited and became unruly, making accusations of infidelity to one of the residents, before allegedly snatching a pair of glasses and a phone and running off.
Smith located him on North Palmetto Street. At first the apprehension went calmly. Smith handcuffed Burnham and read him his Miranda rights, and Burnham agreed to speak of the incident. He said he and a woman at the house had agreed to speak outside the house, because he had a trespass warning against him at that address. He said they met, he asked to borrow her phone and her glasses, she agreed (he claims) and he left.
When Burnham was told he was under arrest for burglary, he tensed up, according to his arrest report, clung to a fence and started screaming for the woman, and saying he was not going back to jail.
As Smith was patting him down and checking Burnham’s pockets, wearing latex gloves as deputies usually do when conducting such searches, the deputy stuck his hand in a back pocket of Burnham’s and tore his glove. “There must’ve been something in there because almost as soon as he put his hand in his pocket he became extremely nauseous, he began vomiting, his pupils were not dilating properly,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said.
The arrest report describes Smith as starting to “vomit uncontrollably” and falling to his knees. He’d just removed a silver metal spoon with some sort of residue from Burnham’s pocket, and a capped hypodermic needle with a light brown substance.
Burnham, who had been clinging to a fence, “was eventually removed from the fence and fell unconscious,” his arrest report states without additional detail. Dispatch note include a deputy’s remark that the deputy helped to gain compliance from Burnham. But he, too, appears to have experienced a rewaction to a substance, based on a deputy’s description of his symptoms captured in a body cam video: “He was alert and conscious up against the fence,” a deputy tells a paramedic, “they think he was using. We went to pull him off the fence, and when we pulled him off the fence he resisted us, not too much of a struggle, we just kind of pulled him forward. And then he automatically went into like, these convulsions, heavy breathing.” Burnham was on the ground, seemingly unconscious but breathing, as deputies spoke to a paramedic.
Soon after Smith fell ill, Baker felt a sharp pain her her arm and started to feel light-headed and nauseous. Three ambulances were requested–one for each of the law enforcement officers, one for the suspect. All three were transported to AdventHealth Palm Coast.
Smith was administered Narcan, the neutralizing agent usually given to individuals experiencing overdoses, to restore and regulate their breathing. Sheriff Rick Staly was at the hospital soon after the deputy was taken there, as was the deputy’s wife, who is also a sheriff’s deputy and who was relieved of duty so she could be with her husband.
“Both Officer Baker and Deputy Smith were treated for exposure to an unknown substance suspected of being an illegal narcotic,” Burnham’s arrest report states.
Fentanyl, the powerful narcotic, is known to trigger violent reactions even from minimal exposure, but a sheriff’s spokesperson said a preliminary test showed that it was not fentanyl. But a fuller toxicology report is yet to come. The substance was sent out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Burnham was also treated and released back to the custody of the sheriff’s office, and was booked at the county jail before 4 a.m. The burglary charge is a second degree felony. The Friday plea hearing, at 10:45 a.m. before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, is still on the docket.
“Our men and women in uniform face countless dangers every day,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “When law enforcement officers answer a call, they never really know what they are walking in to. They only know that they could be putting their life on the line to save someone else. I saw both of them at the hospital and you could tell they had been exposed to a very dangerous narcotic, probably heroin laced with something. I am thankful that Deputy Smith and Officer Baker are going to be okay. This could have had a very different outcome.”
Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster said Baker is “doing fine, I talked to her that night at the emergency room a and I talked to her again Sunday morning,” and she was back at work Sunday at midnight. “I’m very thankful both the deputy and Officer Baker are doing well, but that very well turned into a bad situation.”