Judge bounces back Baker Act lawsuit once again

A former barrier island resident who says Vero Beach police wrongfully committed him under the Baker Act got some harsh words from a federal judge after the complaint he re-submitted was rejected for failing to make its case.

“The amended complaint complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure even less than the original complaint,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos said in his order last Thursday, responding to an amended filing by retired civil engineer Larry Wilke that was received nearly a week before the deadline to remediate all the elements lacking in the original lawsuit filed in June.

But Wilke, a longtime Central Beach resident who now lives in Troy, Ala., was given a final chance to shore up the lawsuit or face dismissal from Florida’s Northern District Court.

Wilke filed the case “pro se,” meaning that he’s acting as his own attorney – a status in federal courts that gives non-attorney plaintiffs ample leeway to correct deficiencies in their pleadings. However, Stampelos stated, “Plaintiff is advised that the opportunity to submit amended complaint is not unlimited. Plaintiff should heed the guidance provided and he must file a second amended complaint no later than August 30, 2016,” adding that Wilke must use a court-provided form and must limit his dissertation to 15 pages.

Wilke filed the case in the Panhandle because it also alleges staff from the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital system violated his civil rights during a 27-day involuntary stay in the behavioral health center following a second Baker Act commitment in early 2014.

He is attempting to lodge a class-action on behalf of all Floridians wrongfully held under the Baker Act and is asking for $70 million in damages. Stampelos said Wilke had not laid out his claims in a clear and concise manner explaining which of the allegations he was making were committed by which parties. The judge said further that Wilke needed to back claims up with specific facts, and to name names when alleging behavior committed by individuals.

One of the allegations in the suit is that medical personnel at the Tallahassee hospital took actions that damaged his family relationships. Wilke’s son, Ryan Wilke, who works as a non-clinical psychologist for a Florida State University, said the Baker Act incidents have indeed caused a rift between him and his father. Ryan Wilke said his father had always been very rational and trustworthy, but that he shared some of the same concerns as doctors and police about the elder Wilke’s erratic behavior.

The Baker Act incidents came on the heels of Wilke and a friend filing reports with the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleging that Vero Beach Police officers were somehow in cahoots with illegal activity – drugs, prostitution, money laundering and illegal immigration – that Wilke claimed were occurring at the now-demolished Surf Club motel on A1A near Jaycee Park.

After filing two reports with the FBI, Wilke states he feared retribution from the local police. Being committed for three days under the Baker Act, he says, is part of the reprisal he feared, a plot to damage his credibility and diminish the reported crimes.

City Manager Jim O’Connor has so far declined to comment on the allegations in the case – that members of his police department assaulted Wilke and had him put into Indian River Medical Center’s behavioral health facility for 72 hours as is permitted by Florida’s Baker Act when law enforcement officers feel a person poses a danger to himself or others – except to say Vero has handed the matter over to its liability insurance company.

On Monday, O’Connor said, “We will await his amended and again amended complaint.”

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