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’My hands were tied. I couldn’t do anything about it.’

Parents share stories about Baker Act experiences and how they affected their families.
Ann Corzo and her son Kristopher. [.]
Ann Corzo and her son Kristopher. [.]
Published Dec. 8, 2019

Kristopher

The picture showed two naked guys with straps across their chests, carrying guns. They looked like Rambo to Ann Corzo when she saw it. Her 13-year-old son had drawn the picture at school with another boy. They drew a building and the name of their Miami school, Everglades K-8 Center. They’d balled it up, dropped it in the garbage.

A teacher grabbed it. The police arrived and searched the boys’ backpacks.

Corzo found her son, Kristopher, who had never been in trouble, in the principal’s office. He’d frozen in front of the officers, refused to talk.

Police were ready to take him to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s psychiatry unit.

“They kept telling me it was protocol,” she said. “ ‘Can I see this protocol?’ I asked. No, they’re not allowed to show it.”

Corzo said police told her she had two options. They could take him in handcuffs, in the back of a police car.

Or she could take him in, which she did.

When they got there, Kristopher cried. The nurse asked him to take his clothes off, they took his blood and tested him for drugs. Kristopher was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2016, so his mother handed the nurse his insulin pump. The doctor evaluated him for a short time, according to Corzo, and said he was depressed and possibly suicidal and admitted him.

“My hands were tied,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything about it.”

According to his medical report, Kristopher told the doctor who evaluated him that he wasn’t suicidal. He said the picture was a joke, and he was trying to be funny.

A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools said she could not comment on a specific case. “When a situation arises which requires a student to undergo a mental health evaluation, our police officers utilize an involuntary Baker Act only after all other reasonable methods and/or options have been exhausted,” said Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, chief communications officer.

After Kristopher was released, he wouldn’t talk about what happened.

But he was scared to go back to school. His anxiety spiked. His blood sugar shot up. He had panic attacks. He feared going to the doctor.

Four months ago, they moved to Tampa for his mother’s new job as a commercial loan assistant.

She remembered how Kristopher used to be the class clown. The teacher told her he’d dance across the room from his seat to the pencil sharpener. The memory made her sad.

“He’s better now,” she said. “But what that school did to him? A child who was perfectly normal, it affected him…. He’s not the same boy that he was before.”

RELATED: An autistic child melts down. An officer makes a decision. A family suffers the consequences.

Marisol

Lindsey Rezin and her daughter, Marisol.

The 8-year-old was in line in the hallway at her elementary school in Manatee County last January when she said she felt like stabbing herself. Soon, her mom, Lindsey Rezin, got a call. Her daughter, Marisol, had identified where the knives were in the kitchen at home, so police were involuntarily committing her to the Centerstone Behavioral Hospital in Bradenton.

Marisol had been diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder. Her body reacted to being too hot, to loud noises, to peers who got too close. When overwhelmed, she grew frustrated but was unable to find the right words to express herself, Rezin said. She was not suicidal.

Rezin, a volunteer pre-kindergarten teacher, had been involuntarily committed to the Bradenton crisis center two decades before when it had another name and she was 17. “I knew that her going in at 8 was going to be a shock,” she said.

Rezin, 35, argued futilely with Centerstone staff that Marisol did not meet the criteria for the Baker Act and they should release her immediately.

While visiting her daughter, Rezin observed one child telling a handful of other children, including Marisol, how he was going to kill them. He’d stab one, shoot another. A technician sat nearby on her phone. At one point, a staff member left the children’s dorm, leaving Rezin and her husband as the only adults.

She also heard staff members cursing and giving personal opinions about patients in front of the other children.

“She lost some of her innocence,” Rezin said. “Our choice as a parent was ripped away, and I did nothing to deserve that.”

Centerstone Behavioral Hospital has a history of violations. In 2018, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration cited Centerstone for not properly handling background checks on 28 employees. The year before, the facility was found to have placed children on the adult wing without supervision. And this year, Centerstone was written up for failing to log clearances for 72 employees, as required by contract.

The hospital declined to discuss an individual case.

For three days, Marisol slept alone in a bedroom with three other empty beds. She was not given access to her clean clothes or her special sensory blanket for 24 hours. She was sent outside in 40 degrees without a jacket. She was released with a diagnosis of autism.

In an interview at a Sarasota park, Marisol, who sat next to her mother on a bench, said: “Yea, I don’t want to go back there.”

She said she tried to tell them she didn’t have any plans to do anything. But no one listened.

Christian

Crystal Jones and her son, Christian.

On the second day of school last year, Crystal Jones says the principal of Quest Elementary in Melbourne walked up to her in the pickup line and asked her if she was Christian’s mom. She nodded, and they shook hands. Then, Jones recalled, the principal said, “I just see him being suspended to the point of expulsion.”

Christian, 8, had recently been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. He liked to hug other children but if they rejected him, he sometimes hit and kicked, his mother said.

Over the next six months, Christian attended detention four times and was suspended at least six times. Each time, written reports added details she hadn’t been told over the phone, such as kicking a teacher.

One day earlier this year, Christian exploded after the special education teacher gave him a sheet with 100 math problems and told him he had to do them all before he could go outside. As a child with a disability, Christian had a federal individualized education plan that urged teachers to give him fewer problems at a time. Jones reminded the teacher of this. Then, a few days later, it happened again.

“It felt like they were purposely trying to frustrate him,” she said.

On Feb. 6, Jones, an executive secretary at a medical clinic, got a call at work. Christian had lost his temper, thrown some papers on the floor and broken a vase. The school resource officer said he would be taking Christian to a crisis center. Jones protested, but the officer seemed angry.

Jones raced to the school. She knew things weren’t working for Christian there; she had been trying all year to get him into a specialized autism school in Brevard County. But his acceptance had stalled because of an insurance problem.

At the school, Jones said she begged the officer not to take Christian. Then she begged him not to walk Christian to the police car in front of the pickup line.

Jones said the officer told her the boy should have thought of that before he unravelled. He said he was tired of being called to the classroom for Christian.

When Jones got to the facility, she said she found her son alone in an intake room with three adult male patients.

Christian climbed into her lap. One man piped up and said he was a pervert, so he’d been asked to leave at least a seat between him and Christian. Another said he was about to sober up and maybe it was time to check himself out. All three were admitted to Circles of Care before Christian was processed and disappeared behind the same door.

For two days, Christian’s mom was terrified of what might happen to him there. After getting out, he asked a lot about kids going to jail. He seemed scared.

Jones did not send her son back to Quest Elementary. She filed a complaint against the officer with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office but has heard nothing.

Matt Reed, a spokesperson for Brevard Public Schools, said the decision to employ the Baker Act was made by the school resource officer. He said the principal could not comment on the case because of privacy laws.

“Ethically, it’s wrong,” Jones said during an interview at a park in Melbourne, near where she and Christian live. “They can look me in the face and say they want what’s best for him, but their actions proved otherwise.”

Twenty days after his Baker Act, Christian’s insurance came through, and he was accepted at The Sonder Academy, a private school for children with autism, in Melbourne.

Katie Kelly, an attorney at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, has seen a similar pattern unfold in nearby Volusia County, where she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice two years ago.

“The Baker Act problem is actually a school problem,” she said. “There’s not enough support and services in place for kids with behavioral disabilities, including autism.”

Bruno

Sophie Dessureault and her son, Bruno.

The boy told his therapist that he flipped a desk in third grade at Pride Elementary in Tampa and went to jail.

What really happened was this: a police officer took the 9-year-old from school to the Gracepoint children’s crisis center -- all before his mother, Sophie Dessureault, knew anything had happened.

Dessureault adopted Bruno when he was 2 days old. She is a cancer surgeon at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, a professor at the University of South Florida and a single mother. About two years ago, Bruno was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a disorder that can produce uncontrollable movements or sounds. He also has dyslexia and ADHD.

On the day in May 2018 that an officer committed Bruno, the boy had a substitute teacher.

Dessureault learned the officer had acted after another child told him Bruno had a list of kids who had made him mad. When asked why he flipped his desk, he said a voice made him do it.

Tanya Arja, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County, says the principal followed the correct protocol. Often, parents aren’t notified until the car ride to the crisis center if the child is in immediate danger.

Bruno stayed at the center for about 20 hours. When he was released, the psychiatrist at Gracepoint told his mother he was fine.

When Bruno got back to school, Dessureault said, “he was treated like a criminal.” School officials searched his backpack every morning, so his mother got an attorney involved and that stopped. But the damage was done. “He became the cool bad kid,” she said. “He made it part of his persona. It wasn’t like that before.”

Dessureault said her son, now a fifth-grader, is doing OK. “I still feel like I failed him, even though there was nothing I could have done.”

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