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Custody could have saved man

Published Aug. 31, 2005

A Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy was supposed to find Alan Houseman over the weekend and bring him to a mental health facility.

But the deputy got busy, and didn't have time to find the South Tampa man, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

On Saturday night _ a little more than 24 hours after the Sheriff's Office received the order _ a Tampa Police officer shot and killed Houseman after a scuffle.

"We can sit here and question until the dogs come home, but had he been picked up on Friday, he wouldn't be dead today," said Houseman's sister-in-law, Ceida Houseman of Clearwater. "Somehow or another, the system failed us."

Ceida Houseman and her husband, David, Alan Houseman's younger brother, have said they don't blame Tampa police Officer Rebecca Bodamer, who fatally shot Houseman four times after officials said he took her metal police baton and hit her on the head with it.

Ceida Houseman wanted to know why the deputy didn't get her brother-in-law or why a Tampa officer didn't go instead.

"Why would a county officer be having to pick someone up in the city of Tampa when a city officer knows the district better?" she said.

In Hillsborough County, the Sheriff's Office handles all Baker Act orders signed by county judges.

The Housemans said they have called Tampa police several times to have Alan Houseman picked up. When Houseman saw authorities, "he knew how to come down and turn the situation around," his sister-in-law said.

Under the Baker Act, police may take people into custody if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. If a psychiatrist determines that they need treatment, a hospital can treat them for up to three days without their consent.

Judges also can sign orders to have a person committed under the Baker Act.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said her agency received the Baker Act order Friday afternoon.

The orders are usually handled by civil process servers, she said, except when they arrive late in the afternoon. Then the orders are sent to deputies.

Houseman's Baker Act order was sent to a deputy in District Four _ in Ruskin _ late Friday afternoon, Carter said. The deputy assigned to the order, Scott Goda, was too busy with burglaries and robberies to drive to the city to pick Houseman up, she said.

Goda took the paperwork home, Carter said, and intended to find Houseman on Saturday. But once again he was too busy with calls in progress to drive to Tampa, Carter said.

Longtime family friend and attorney Joseph Frank said he had always feared Houseman's life would end tragically.

"We expected him to get into trouble," he said. "I have no intention to sue anybody. I don't think the breakdown was seven o'clock Saturday night. The breakdown was over the last few years when there was nowhere else for him to be."