FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputies had been searching all Father’s Day morning for a young girl when body camera video shows them finally finding her clinging to a fence on the outside of an overpass high above Interstate 95 at Palm Coast Parkway.
They had been told the girl wasn’t comfortable around men so the sheriff’s office sent two women: Deputies Laura Jenkins and Crista Rainey. Rainey is part of the Crisis Negotiation Team and both have crisis-intervention training.
Sheriff Rick Staly said all of his deputies are trained in crisis intervention.
“And I think that’s what separates our agency from many agencies around the country is because we have emphasized so much on how to deescalate, how to do crisis negotiation in our internal academy,” Staly said.
After they found her, the deputies immediately began a compassionate conversation with the girl.
“Just immediately (we) started talking to her, trying to grab her hands, trying to calm her down,” Jenkins said.
Body camera video shows the deputies calmly speaking to the girl and reminding her of her baby nephew.
“There were deputies that were getting intelligence for us and family members told us that her nephew means the world to her,” Rainey said. “So we tried to use that to convince her to not do what she what she was doing.”
After shutting down the highway, the deputies used a fire truck ladder to get to the girl after handcuffing her to the fence which ultimately saved her life.
“She did let go, multiple times,” Jenkins said. “15 to 20 times I’d say.”
The deputies, along with firefighters, were able to eventually walk the girl down the ladder and to safety.
Authorities took the girl to the hospital under the Baker Act. The Baker Act is a Florida law that enables someone to be temporarily detained for a mental health emergency. Prior to this incident, Sheriff Rick Staly said deputies had been called to Baker Act the girl several times before without getting results.
“I hope she gets the help, I hope she doesn’t fall through the cracks, she’s crying out for help, and government and adults need to deliver,” Staly said.
However, Staly admitted it’s up to the girl and her family to reach out for help.
“Well it’s on the parents, it’s on her to be receptive, and the providers to deliver,” Staly said.
Staly said the Baker Act, really the only tool law enforcement officers have to deal with the mentally ill or those in a mental health crisis, is no longer effective.
“We probably Baker Act five, sometimes eight a shift,” Staly said. “At most, you can be held for 72 hours before you have to be taken before a judge. I will tell you that never happens. We take them to a facility under the Baker Act, and less than 24 hours later they are returned, outpatient. Many times they’re given medication, then they start feeling better so they quit taking their medication and the cycle repeats itself. So there’s not good initial care and there’s not good follow-up.”
Staly said mental health services across the country and in Flagler County for adults are “poor to begin with” and for juveniles “it’s even worse.”
“When they’re not in school where there might be some counselors there -- when they’re at home in the community, parents aren’t trained, generally, to provide this level of mental health services to their children but they should seek it out,” Staly said.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is trying to address the mental health need by securing a $1.2 million grant. Staly said the grant will be spent on mental health services for people ages 18-25 and will fund the hiring of two licensed counselors to respond to crises with deputies.
Staly said the Florida Department of Children and Families is now responsible for following up with the girl.
“They’re the ones that should,” Staly said. “But we also know they’re overwhelmed and understaffed.”
Anyone in Flagler County seeking mental health services can visit the Flagler Lifeline website for a list of available resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by phone at 1-800-273-8255 or online 24 hours a day.