Woman sues Collier center over Baker Act 'assault'

Woman sues Collier center over Baker Act 'assault'. News Press video

A woman is suing Collier County's primary mental health provider, claiming staff assaulted and improperly detained her in January while she was there for a scheduled outpatient appointment.

According to the lawsuit, the 23-year-old woman, identified only as "Jane Doe," suffered from depression and came to the David Lawrence Center near Naples around 10 a.m. Jan. 24 to see a counselor about going back on anti-depressant medicine.

Instead, a psychiatric nurse tried to convince her she needed to be committed for mental observation as allowed under the state's Baker Act, the suit claims. The law allows involuntary mental health evaluation of patients when there is a "substantial likelihood" that they will harm themselves or others, according to the News-Press.

Eight or nine staffers then pulled her into a room and held her face down on a bed while they removed her bra, something done to patients considered suicidal. In doing so they "manipulated and touched her flesh and breasts," the lawsuit states.

Staff determined a few hours later that she did not meet the criteria for an involuntary mental health evaluation and was released.

"You can't just beat up somebody, assault them and say you're sorry and you made a mistake," said Dennis Webb, the woman's Fort Myers attorney. "There's got to be consequences for this."

The case is filed as a "Jane Doe" lawsuit based on a provision of Florida granting anonymity to victims of sexual assault, Webb said. The lawsuit, however, does not specifically allege sex assault.

The David Lawrence Center did not address the individual allegations in its statement on the lawsuit:

“David Lawrence Center is aware of the allegations and does not comment on matters in active litigation. However, we are confident in our process and that the facility will ultimately be found to have acted appropriately.”

It's unclear what triggered the initial determination that the woman needed an involuntary evaluation. Webb said she never mentioned suicide or hurting anyone. Nor had she done so during three previous visits, Webb said.

The woman had never been detained under the Baker Act.

"The only (medical) history this nurse had was that she was not suicidal," Webb said. "Where was the imminent threat? She wasn't running out of the office so they had to tackle her."

Webb said the woman felt depressed that day, and just before staff detained her, complained about the long drive to a recommended mental health provider, he said.

He provided The News-Press with security camera footage showing the staffers taking her into the room and holding her down on the bed. The video has no sound.

Moments after staff removed her bra she sits up and speaks to staffers. Minutes later, she appears to begin crying.

After an examination in the succeeding hours, a psychiatrist concluded that she was not suicidal and recommended "a least restrictive placement as the patient appears motivated and resourceful," the lawsuit states. She was then "given back her bra and was left without apology, or therapy, to drive herself away" from the center, it continues.

The center also billed her about $1,000 after the visit, Webb said.

News Press


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