In this case from 2009, a 7-year old boy was Baker Acted from Mildred Helms Elementary in Largo, Florida despite the strong protest of his parents.
His mother, Barbara Smith arrived at the school while the police were investigating a report that the boy had thrown a tantrum, torn up the room, “stepped on a teacher’s foot” and “battered” a school administrator.
“This is a total abuse of police power,” said the boy’s father, Richard Smith, 41. “My son has no mental health problems. He’s never hurt himself. He’s never hurt anyone else.”
The police refused to allow Barbara to see her son, find out what had occurred and resolve the situation in a way she felt she could do as his mother. Instead, police took the boy to Morton Plant hospital where he spent the night alone. They did allow his mother to ride along in the squad car to comfort him. He was released the next day when a child psychologist found the boy to be mentally sound and he was allowed to go back home.
At the time, Barbara Smith told the St. Pete Times she was keeping the boy and his 9-year-old sister out of school because they were “scared to death” to go back.
The Backer Act states involuntary examination may be initiated by any one of three different means;
- It could be court ordered
- It could be done if a physician, clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist or psychiatric nurse who has witnessed certain behavior in the last 48 hours signs a Baker Act form
- It could be a situation where a law enforcement officer must take a person who appears to meet the criteria for involuntary examination into custody and deliver the person or have him or her delivered to the nearest receiving facility for examination. The officer must execute a written report detailing the circumstances (doesn’t require their observations) under which the person was taken into custody, and the report must be made a part of the person’s clinical record.
In this case the boy was Baker Acted under the third provision.
Since the police arrived after the incident had occurred, their information was obviously second-hand. What actually occurred to cause the boy to step on the teacher’s foot and “batter” the school administrator? Just how seriously injured were they by this child?
Consider that a 7-year old boy is on average not quite 4′ tall and weighs about 50 lbs. The average 35 year old woman in the U.S. is 5’4″ tall and weighs about 172 lbs. The average 35 year old man in the U.S. is 5’10” tall and weighs about 188 lbs.
In this David vs. Goliath situation, the boy was up against someone over three times his size. Proportionally, this would be like pitting the teacher or school administrator against someone seven to eight feet tall and weighing from 592 to 701 pounds! It’s hard to see how a 7-year old boy without a gun or knife could be a threat to such giants.
Yet the police chief reported that the tantrum was “so bad that school officials had to evacuate students from the classroom.” Evacuation is a term usually reserved for a terrorist threat or a school shooter.
The Baker Act says in Florida Statute 394.463 that police can take someone for involuntary examination when:
“2. There is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or herself or others in the near future, as evidenced by recent behavior.”
It also says in the same statute “…and it is not apparent that such harm may be avoided through the help of willing family members or friends…”
The boy’s mother was right there to take him home but the police chose not to allow her to do that, a clear violation of her parental rights. Did this child really show a substantial likelihood of causing serious injury to himself or others?
Raine Johns, who at that time handled Baker Act cases for the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s Office, said that police cannot use the act to take someone into custody against their will who does not meet those criteria even if they feel the person needs help. John said, “That’s not the purpose of the Baker Act at all. Stepping on somebody’s foot doesn’t rise to the level of substantial bodily harm.”
The parents planned to seek the advice of a lawyer as the incident clearly appeared to be a violation of the Baker Act.
This incident points up several key problems with the Baker Act that have not been resolved to this day.
Police, school administrators and parents who actually do want the best for the children are trapped with thinking their only choice is to send kids off to psychiatric facilities for “help” when those facilities can only offer one solution – prescribing an experimental dose of a psychiatric drug never tested nor deemed safe or effective for children and with a list of side effects and warnings that fill pages of fine print. Returning a child to school drugged into an apathetic and zombie-like condition may make the classroom quieter and orderly but it is no solution.
Baker Acting kids and hooking them on harmful drugs has nothing to do with creating successful lives and happy, productive families here in Florida. It’s time to change the legislation so that parents can help their children solve problems without the damage of psychiatric drugs.
Barbara Smith is now enlightened as a parent. She told the press, “We can’t just sweep this under the carpet. We do want to talk to a lawyer….Our main goal is to make sure this does not happen to another family.”