Florida’s Multi-System Failures and the broken ‘Baker Act’
Everyday in Florida, the sun does not shine on the multitudes involuntarily confined via the innocuous-sounding “Baker Act” … the multitudes of harmless elders, in particular. What can cause the sudden detention of an elderly man, 89 years old, inside a metropolitan Florida hospital mental ward?
In the case of my Father, Al Katz was determined to be a threat to others because he pushed his walker against someone, known as “walker abuse,” not normally lethal or catastrophic. Although Al Katz, a Holocaust Survivor of seven years of slave labor in temperatures reaching 52 degrees below zero, had never harmed another human being or himself, the Manatee County judge sentenced my Dad to three weeks of involuntary commitment with a no-contact order placed upon him. Al Katz was prohibited thereby from receiving from or sending to his family any communications of any kind.
Al Katz’s involuntary confinement in the gruesome underground psychiatric ward in Manatee Memorial Hospital would have lasted by law 72 hours, but instead, Al Katz was detained without further court hearings for three weeks, isolated from his family waiting to see him just on the other side of the electronic metal doors guarded by armed officers. Al Katz was re-living the Holocaust, surrounded by men in uniforms with guns and unable to communicate with the ones he loved.
The threshold for Baker Act commitments of elders in Florida is extremely low. For the most minimal of reasons, elders are imprisoned in hospitals and psychiatric facilities for days, reaping enormous funds for these providers of makeshift jail cells, where grandmas and grandpas barely able to walk are kept off the streets as threats to society.
Al Katz could barely walk, could not drive, had no weapons of any kind, and had lived 89 years as an admirable asset to his community, but the court found that he posed a threat to himself or others, purportedly necessitating the Baker Act. On the other hand, Florida’s infamous school mass murder suspect, who shall remain unnamed herein, posed low risk of harming himself or others, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which had visited the suspect and his family following his Internet postings of self-mutilation and express keen interest in buying a gun. DCF records state that the suspect “plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for.”
What else did DCF and multiple other agencies know about the suspect or should have known? He was on medications for A.D.H.D., seeing counselors, and a client at a number of mental health facilities. He was referred for a “threat assessment” due to his long history of fights with teachers and frequent profanity directed against school staff. He posted on the Internet photos of dead and mutilated animals that he had killed; had a Nazi symbol on his book bag; was prohibited from carrying a backpack at school; harassed his neighbors; was investigated or visited by law enforcement nearly 40 times in eight years; attended numerous schools, including a school for students with emotional problems and an alternative high school for at-risk youths; was regularly disciplined for disobedience; made a false 911 call; posted “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” on the Internet using his real name; was uncomfortable with his Hispanic heritage; was suspended multiple times in the 2016-17 school year; shared photos of small animals he had shot; bragged about his intent to bring guns to school; was found with bullets in his backpack; kicked out a glass window at his middle school; had frequent prolonged, unexplained absences from school; had made numerous Internet postings of guns, knives, and other ominous images; and had been referred to a mental health center to be detained under the Baker Act, which center determined that the suspect was not a threat after visiting him at his home and giving him a safety contract to sign.
Al Katz never had a mental health counselor visit him at his home, never was given a safety contract to sign, and was illegally held in the Baker Act for many weeks without the mandatory court hearings. Al Katz never had any warning signs that he would pose a threat to society; the suspect had every warning sign that he would “be a professional school shooter,” including his own word on it signed with his own uniquely-spelled name.
Could dozens of murders have been prevented in Florida? Yes. How are mass detentions of elders in sunless cages lowering the societal threat? How many detained grandmas and grandpas would ever commit a mass murder?
This past summer, I once again alerted the Florida and Indiana authorities about another young man with a violent history who has made foreboding Internet postings for years, including videos of simulated decapitations with blood spurting out of the necks, photographs of assault weapons, and his own ominous poetry reminiscent of past mass murderers, but the evidence and I are invariably ignored. The clock is ticking with his rage, but no one will listen. Previously, this convicted serial predator mutilated the genital area of one of his victim’s dolls and set it on fire to “release his anger.”
Again, the clock is ticking with his rage, but no one will listen … just like the Florida school shooting case, with flagrant warning signs unheeded. Said the shooting suspect’s public defender:
This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter. If this isn’t a person who should have gotten someone’s attention, I don’t know who is. This was a multi-system failure…
When harmless elders are locked up, this too is a multi-system failure that any decent society cannot condone any more than a mass murderer walking its streets or a serial predator lurking.
Where are the civil libertarian lawyers when people need them? That old man would be released instantly if a decent lawyer got on his case.