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Pinellas Park mental health staffer sexually abused patients, police say

PINELLAS PARK — A 34-year-old man sexually abused three patients at the mental health agency where he worked over a span of four months, according to Pinellas Park police.

Nicholai Anthony Brief was arrested late Thursday on one count of sexual battery and three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation committed against an elderly or disabled person.

He worked at the non-profit Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services on the 11200 block of 58th Street N. Records show the facility offers crisis stabilization for adults and children and is licensed to admit those held under the Baker Act, the state law that allows people to be held to undergo a mental health evaluation.

In recent federal tax filings, the facility said its program "focuses on providing access to care for those individuals in the county who are indigent or otherwise not able to access care in other hospitals."

The facility's lawyers said he was fired.

Brief worked in a "caretaker" role there, police said, and was described as a "tech." He "was in a position of trust or authority" over the three victims through his work there, police said. No information about the victims was released.

The investigation started Thursday when police received a report that a staff member had engaged in non-consensual sexual activity with patients. The arrest affidavits described the incidents:

• Brief entered a patient's room and groped her on Oct. 9 and 10, police said. He denied touching her, police said, but did admit to messaging her on Facebook and asking for sexually explicit photos and for her to expose herself. The affidavit noted Brief should have known she lacked the capacity to consent to sexual activity.

• Another incident took place Jan. 2 at about 11 p.m. Brief was admitting a patient into the facility when police said he grabbed her by the arm, forced her into a dark room and sexually battered her.

• The third incident took place on Feb. 14 at about 11 p.m. Brief groped a sleeping patient, according to an affidavit, and warned her: "You're not going to tell anyone, are you?"

Brief was taken into custody at his St. Petersburg home and booked into the Pinellas County jail, where he was being held Friday in lieu of $65,000 bail.

He has had run-ins with the law before, records show. In October 2016, Clearwater police arrested him on a felony charge of domestic battery by strangulation and tampering with a witness. Both charges were later dropped.

According to a statement from the facility's lawyers, Brief's application was reviewed by the Florida Department of Children and Families, which "went through a vetting process, and deemed him eligible for employment."

"(The facility) has a strict protocol in place regarding any and all reports of this nature, takes these reports seriously, and condemns this type of alleged behavior. Once (the facility) became aware of these claims, it opened an immediate investigation regarding the incident, terminated Mr. Brief's employment, and promptly notified appropriate officials," read a company statement. The facility said it is also conducting its own investigation.

The facility is a $14.7 million-a-year operation that relies largely on contracts with government agencies including the Pinellas County Commission and the Juvenile Welfare Board, according to its latest federal tax filings.

The provider is licensed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. The agency only lists one legal action taken against the facility: Nurses in 2017 failed to sufficiently record administered medication. The facility paid a $500 fine.

Times staff writer Dennis Joyce contributed to this report. Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 or Follow @langstonitaylor.