Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were facing a crisis: They desperately wanted to close Rosalie Manor in Dunedin, a troubled assisted living facility, but state regulators weren't taking any action.
For years, the home's residents were out of control, roaming the streets, getting into fights and overdosing on narcotics.
Frustrated the home wasn't being shut down, deputies came up with a plan: charge owner Erik Anderson under Florida's elder abuse statute.
Turning to a tragic death case that had been investigated and dropped by the state Attorney General's Office, deputies arrested Anderson for neglect and he was soon booted from the business.
"The goal was to shut down Rosalie Manor, and we did," said former prosecutor Thomas Cope, who pressed the case against the home.
The charges in 2006 demonstrated how county prosecutors were able to use a law that was created to help crack down on dangerous caretakers — even when another agency passed on the case.
Created a generation ago, Florida's elder abuse statute was revamped in 1995 legislation under Gov. Lawton Chiles to let prosecutors charge caretakers who abuse and neglect vulnerable adults.
More importantly, the law allowed prosecutors to file felony charges even when caretakers didn't intend to cause harm.
"It was very frustrating to see the kinds of things I was seeing and to know that it could be fixed," said Bentley Lipscomb, the state's former secretary of Elder Affairs, who spearheaded the law's creation.
For prosecutors in Pinellas County, it was a practical matter: Rosalie had been a drain on the county's resources, with at least 400 emergency calls in the previous five years for problems including illegal drug use and assaults.
Sheriff's deputies "told me about the horrors of this place," Cope said. "They came to me with a banker's box full of reports."
One of those cases detailed the death of Stephanie Haas.
Just three days after moving into Rosalie Manor, the 20-year-old was found dead in her room of an overdose of powerful narcotics after she had been fed the drugs by another resident.
When investigators dug deeper, they discovered owner Erik Anderson had failed to keep the dangerous drugs under lock and key, among a host of other problems that endangered the lives of his residents.
Though the case had been investigated by the state Department of Children and Families — which found the home had failed to protect Haas — the state Attorney General's Office decided against prosecuting, saying it lacked evidence.
That didn't stop Cope and the Pinellas deputies, who raided Rosalie in 2006 and arrested Anderson that same day. The 60-year-old caretaker pleaded guilty on two charges, which included failing to watch over Haas, ordering his employees not to call deputies when the staff turned up bloody evidence of a suicide in a bedroom, and failing to control the narcotics in the home. A 39-year-old resident, Terance Dungan, was convicted of manslaughter and drug trafficking in the death of Haas and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Under a plea deal, Anderson was sentenced to five years' probation and agreed to never open another ALF in Florida.