Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Hudson man recounts how trip to mental health facility led to rape accusation

HUDSON — Bryan Joachinson checked into a behavioral health center so something like this wouldn't happen.

He says he made decent grades at Hudson High School where he played as a defensive lineman on the varsity team. He graduated in 2011 and moved on to Pasco-Hernando State College. There were some flareups with his mental health along the way. He'd gotten them under control.

By April last year, he was 19 and on the final semester toward an associate's degree on a Bright Futures scholarship. But an ill-advised mushroom binge would be his derailment.

Bryan took so many, the hallucinations and delusions grabbed him and wouldn't let go. He remembers leaving his aunt's house before dawn one morning to walk 2 miles. He saw dandelions on the roadside that wilted as he approached. That day, he was caught trespassing at a Steak 'n Shake and told to leave.

He said his mind tricked him into thinking he was Jesus and that the rapture was nigh. The FBI was after him, he thought. He ruined his cellphone trying to walk across the surface of a pool.

After he called the police from home, thinking he'd heard a murder on his aunt's land line, his father took him to get help. Then things got so much worse.

• • •

Bryan checked into the behavioral health unit of Medical Center of Trinity's West Pasco campus, 5637 Marine Parkway. During his stay of less than a week, he was still coming down from the mushrooms' psychosomatic effects and taking medication.

He says he would mingle sometimes on the center's patio but didn't tell any of the other patients his name. Mostly, he played ping-pong.

He remembers almost nothing that happened on April 24, 2013. New Port Richey Police reports and an 18-year-old woman with the mental capacity of a 14-year-old described this:

Bryan and the woman were in separate wings of the center with a locked door between them. Surveillance video from just before 6 p.m. shows that Bryan sneaked through the door behind a hospital staff member and into the victim's unit. During the 45 minutes he was in that unit, the woman reported to a nurse, she was raped.

A physical exam found semen on the woman and "injuries consistent with rape," according to the report. She reported Bryan by name, described him and picked him out of a photo pack.

Detective Greg Williams questioned Bryan, who said he was never in the woman's unit. He didn't even know her. Perhaps the most damning part of the case: When Williams asked Bryan for a DNA sample, he said, according to Williams, "No. You might as well just take me to jail."

The surveillance video, the woman's story and Bryan's direct contradiction with video evidence was enough to give police probable cause for his arrest.

He was booked into the Land O'Lakes jail on a charge of involuntary sexual battery. Bail: $100,000.

• • •

Jail isn't kind to men with rape charges.

Bryan said he woke up strapped to a chair in the jail's medical unit. He spent his first weeks alone there until a physician cleared him to go into general population.

As his case made its way through the State Attorney's Office, he said he lied to other inmates about his charge for as long as he could, but they found out. One day, as he was returning to his cell from Bible study, three men jumped him.

Bryan would be fine physically. His assailants mostly left cuts and bruises. Worse was the feeling of hopelessness. He sank further into depression as the calendar rounded off five months.

His first motion to reduce his bail was denied. At a pretrial conference, Bryan's public defender and Assistant State Attorney Chris Labruzzo worked out a deal: provide a DNA sample in exchange for being released on his own recognizance.

Labruzzo read the test results on Sept. 9. The DNA found on the woman wasn't Bryan's.

He was released from jail that day. The charges were dropped.

• • •

So many variables in this case make fingers hard to point.

The woman, who has the mental capacity of a young teen, cannot be held accountable. Williams said she has not acknowledged that investigators ruled out Bryan. They have since tied the DNA to another man whom Williams would not identify, citing an open investigation. That man has claimed the act was consensual.

Not even Bryan can say why he refused the DNA test. Williams said the case might have been different if Bryan had initially agreed. He also denied being in the other wing of the building when there was clear evidence that he had. Bryan doesn't remember being questioned, so he can't account for that, either.

The State Attorney's Office sent for results as quickly as it could and then acted on them.

"Under these type of facts, it is a rare scenario," Labruzzo said. "I'm sure false accusations occur, but this was an incident where a sexual assault occurred, and we just picked out the wrong guy."

Thirty years ago, Bryan may not have been released. There would have been no DNA to absolve him. It would have been his word against the victim's, along with the video.

"Thank God the DNA was there to prove otherwise," Williams said.

Labruzzo said it comes down to this: "It's unfortunate that he had to sit in custody, but justice came into light, and we move forward."

• • •

Most of Bryan's days since his release are spent at his home in rural Hudson.

His Bright Futures scholarship was pulled when he failed his last semester after missing classes. He has helped with his dad's flooring business a few times and sometimes does occasional odd jobs for family friends.

In May, Bryan ended up in jail again after deputies found him outside a convenience store in Moon Lake. He was paranoid and had a butterfly knife on him. He was charged with trespassing and carrying a concealed weapon. He said he tried to hang himself in his cell but a deputy caught him in the act.

Now he takes medication for mania, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress. It makes him calm. He focuses his energy on learning about rocks and minerals and holistic medicine.

On a recent afternoon, he said he harbors no hard feelings about what happened.

"Everyone tells me I should sue, sue, sue," he said, "but I'm not like that. I can forgive."

Mostly, he said, he just wants to get out of Pasco County. He has plans to leave for Arizona in July, then Utah, then anywhere else. He wants to go back to school at some point, maybe for chemistry, botany or geology.

"I've got goals in my life and I know how to execute them," he said.

He paused for thought between his words, looking out from under his bushy brown hair. The family's lap dog, Princess, sat on his knee.

His shirt pictured a dog wearing sunglasses, reclining on a hammock between two palm trees. Underneath, were the words "it's all good."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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