Untreated mental illness is rampant in Florida jails, while mental health funding is almost the lowest in the nation

Arresting situations

William Stiles
William Stiles Photo by Larry Griffin

Following a stressful dispute with a local law firm in 2014, Orlando resident William Stiles, 48, was not in a good place. He was attempting to get Social Security disability benefits, and says the firm quit working with his case, but took his money anyway.

When he couldn't get his money back from the firm, Stiles called 211, the federal crisis support line, and told them, according to arrest documents from later, that he wanted to "shoot up" the firm. A local law enforcement officer responded by appearing at Stiles' residence, feeling that without care or treatment, he could be at risk of harming others. The officer intended to use the Baker Act to get Stiles admitted to the Lakeside Behavioral Health Center, a treatment facility for the mentally ill.

Stiles told the officer he intended to "run a fuel truck into the building and blow it up" if he didn't get the money he claimed he was owed by the next day, the court documents state.

Stiles refused to go to Lakeside, saying he "wasn't going anywhere," and instead got into a verbal altercation with the officer. According to court documents, he said they had caught him on a "lucky" day and that he wasn't ready for them.

"I would feel really bad for your wife, your mom, your kids and family if something happened to you," Stiles is quoted as saying in the arrest documents.

Because of that, as well as his refusal to go to Lakeside, Stiles was instead taken to the Orange County Jail, arrested for resisting an officer without violence.

Stiles, who suffers from depression and anxiety, said he was not on his medication at the time – and the incident with the law firm pushed him over the edge. In jail, though, he says, he didn't get much better.

"I was in there for 14 months before they let me out," Stiles tells Orlando Weekly. "They put you in this glass room, all glass windows like fish tanks. Like 10 of them in a row. There was no counseling. You just had to suffer in isolation whatever you were in there for."

Orange County Corrections Department health administrator Jane Jenkins says it's entirely plausible that an officer would have taken Stiles to jail for this incident.

"If law enforcement responds to someone who comes off as threatening, even in the slightest bit, a non-CIT (crisis intervention training) officer's response will be to bring them to for resisting with or without force," she says. "But a CIT officer would have known how to talk to them, and encourage them to go to Lakeside."

Crisis intervention training is a way police officers can learn to help better deal with sensitive situations on the job, particularly those in which they're dealing with a mentally ill person.

Eventually, a doctor finally deemed Stiles incompetent to stand trial for the resisting charge, due to his mental disorder. He was released.


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