On the day before his arbitration hearing last week, Charles Hoeffer’s police union lawyer proposed a settlement that would also allow the former officer to retire in good standing.
“We will accept a lump sum of payment of $575,000.00,” Police Benevolent Association lawyer Larry Fagan wrote in an email to the lawyer representing Palm Beach Shores. “We’ll pay the taxes.”
The town rejected the offer.
Hoeffer spent nearly two years on paid leave while the Riviera Beach police, prosecutors and the FBI investigated claims that he twice raped a blind woman while on duty in 2014. Prosecutors and the FBI decided not to charge him with a crime.
During an arbitration hearing for former officer Charles Hoeffer, Chief Duncan Young said two FBI agents met with him in April, and last week they told him they had found “no evidence of a criminal nature to proceed” with the case.
The State Attorney’s Office also decided not to bring charges in the case, Young said.
Duncan fired Hoeffer in January when his state certification lapsed following nearly two years on paid administrative leave.
Hoeffer is fighting the unusual firing, saying he wasn’t notified his four-year mandatory certification was going to expire. He needed retraining to maintain it.
Young said that Hoeffer, an officer with various police departments since 1987, should have known.
Young said he intentionally didn’t tell the officer about the upcoming recertification because be wanted Hoeffer gone.
“I don’t believe Mr. Hoeffer is of good moral character,” he told an arbitrator this morning.
Hoeffer has been dogged by misconduct allegations, including a separate rape allegation in 1996 that prosecutors declined to charge. At least 11 women have made accusations against him, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.
He was fired from Delray Beach Police Department for attacking his ex-wife, Riviera Beach police fired him on the 1996 rape allegation, but he won back his job.
He’s been with Palm Beach Shores police for eight years. In 2014, a blind woman told police that he had twice raped her in her home. The department hasn’t yet completed its internal investigation in that case.
A decision by the arbitrator could be months away.
Moments before a cluster of congressmen began their 9:30 a.m. presentation at the 2016 National RX Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta Wednesday, the grim clock above them stood at 6,970: the number of people dead from an opioid or heroin overdose in the roughly 72 hours since the summit began Monday evening.
When the speakers arrived at the dais, it was 6,970.
“I’m from the north,” Marsha Martino told about 60 people gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion on the mental health epidemic in Palm Beach County. “I have never lived in a place so devoid of services.”
She spoke to a Leadership Palm Beach County class of about 60 at The Palm Beach Post on a panel with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Gauger, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and Peter Davey, a young man who has battled mental illness.
The system here makes it hard on the mentally ill, Martino said.
Released from treatment, a mentally ill person likely must wait six weeks for treatment. For some, the act of remembering an appointment six weeks away is an “insurmountable barrier,” she said.
In Maine, she said, a patient would be seen by a team of mental health professionals the next day.
Marx, who presides at first-appearance court, said he sees tragedy daily. When mentally ill individuals are arrested, they lose their job, which means they can’t pay for housing, which means they lose their daily shower and shave, which means they lose the chance to get a job, Marx said.
“They have nowhere to sleep. They’re sleeping in your neighborhood,” he said.
One repeat offender, arrested for having an open container, begged the judge to send him back to jail. “I’ve hit bottom,” the man told Marx.
The judge sought a bed for the man. Nobody had one. Finally, he found a place willing to provide a bed for free. He released the man, ordering him to appear in court two months later.
He did, the judge said. And he was good.
“Judge, you saved my life,” the man told Marx.
Without prompting, the man came back again 30 days later to show the judge he was still clean, still working.
“Nine out of 10 do not come back,” Marx said. “But isn’t it worth the effort?”
But such efforts don’t soothe the populace, Marx said. He hears: “Judge aren’t you getting soft on crime?”
“No,” he says. “I’m getting smart on crime.”
Parental denial is one of the biggest problems, Gauger said. He pointed to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, to illustrate.
“Many families are absolutely in denial when it comes to substance abuse or mental health issues,” the No. 2 official to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. “That’s what Adam Lanza did. He locked himself in the room and to entertain him, his mother took shooting and to buy weapons.”
Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.
Awareness is key, the panelists agreed. As is ending the stigma.
Paraphrasing the words of Mother Teresa, panelist Davey said, even when they act badly “love them anyways.”
Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed rule to increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients. HHS had already released $94 million in new funding to 271 community health centers, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction and abuse- it could assist 124,000 new patients.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is releasing a $11 million for up to 11 states to expand medication-assisted treatment for addiction.
Back to HHS: Information on HHS-funded programs regarding the use of federal dollars to start or expand needle exchanges. Obama last year reversed the longstanding ban on federal money for such programs.
Also from the White House, an announcement that more than 60 medical schools, beginning in fall 2016, will require their students to take some form of prescriber education, the better to curb the kind of prescribing that has resulted in 215 million U.S. prescriptions for narcotics every year. The only Florida school named: University of Central Florida College of Medicine.
“Very rarely is money the answer alone,” said Obama to a crowd of about 2,000. “But it helps.”
In an echo of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s historic letter to 107 million households regarding the AIDS epidemic, Murthy is drafting letters to more than one million doctors, dentists and other health care providers in a call for action on the opiod epidemic.
It’s particularly targeted move: It’s physicians who have driven the opiod epidemic with massive numbers of narcotics prescriptions, Murthy and others at the Summit have pointed out.
Every year, Murthy said, another 215 million new opiod prescriptions are written, “enough to put a bottle of pills in the hands of every adult American.”
But, he said, doctors have gotten bad information, both about the addictive potential of drugs such as oxycodone, and addiction overall. For instance, physicians beginning in about 1996 were being taught that fewer than one percent of all patients treated with narcotics were likely to become addicted. State medical boards warns of sanctions against doctors who failed to aggressively treat pain.
“Far too often, doctors have been in situations with patients who they believed were addicted to opiods,” said Murthy, but, he said, physicians did not have the education or tools needed to know whether their prescriptions were alleviating pain or feeding an addiction.
Murthy isn’t stopping with a letter. He’s compiling the first report of any surgeon general addressing substance abuse, addiction and health.
Like the letter, such reports carry clout: Think the tobacco report in 1964 on tobacco and the 1987 report on HIV/AIDS, both of which moved the needle on public discussions of major health issues.
And, like Koop, Murthy intends to use his position as a bully pulpit to educate.
“I want to help the country see that (addiction) is not a moral failing, but a chronic illness that we need to treat with compassion, urgency and skill.”
Fought for since 2001, approved in 2009 and finally operational in October 2011, the database curbs doctor shopping for opioids by tracking prescriptions for the drugs.
It’s been wildly successful at curbing oxycodone-related overdose deaths in Florida, as its latest report shows. In fact, it’s considered a model for other states of just how effective such a database can be.
At a Summit seminar Tuesday morning, there was a discussion by program manager Rebecca Poston of possibly broadening its scope, by linking it to other databases, such as the database of drug-related deaths compiled annually by Florida medical examiners, or the state database on Hepatitis C infections.
The idea is to provide a sweeping look at Florida public health issues, particularly as it involves patterns of drug use.
Nothing on that scale is happening yet. Whether it occurs depends in part on the University of Florida securing a grant which would fund such a program. (EForcse gets no state money for its operations.)
But it raises a question of whether Florida’s lawmakers would resurrect the same privacy concerns they raised back in 2009 and later when arguing against establishing the prescription monitoring database at all.
Poston points out that, as envisioned, there would be no way an individual could be identified. You could not, for instance, be able to individually link Adam Smith to his oxycontin prescriptions, then his treatment for Hepatitis C, his medical treatment for addiction or his death from an overdose. The data would have no names attached.
Post reporters Christine Stapleton and Pat Beall are covering the Summit live from Atlanta. Look for continuing updates on The Insider blog.
Credit writer Dan Baum points for timing. But math? Maybe not.
Baum authored a recent Harpers magazine article suggesting that legalizing drugs might be the answer to the current fix we are in.
His Sunday interview on NPR about the legalization idea out there just hours before an estimated 1800 gather in Atlanta for the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. Among the attendees: President Obama, as well as the head of the DEA, the Surgeon General, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and various and sundry congresspeople.
Monday morning, a Daily Beast columnist weighed in on ending the war on drugs, citing Baum’s article and pointing out that Obama’s talk will take place in a city ravaged by drugs.
But while the timing is good, a crucial piece of math used in Baum’s interview is probably not only off base but out of the ballpark entirely.
He suggested about 4 million Americans have a drug dependency problem, citing Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, who Baum said puts the number of people addicted to hard drugs at fewer than 4 million.
What is being defined as a “hard” drug isn’t entirely clear.
But the feds, based on years of national surveys and emergency room data, estimate more than 24 million people are in need of treatment for addiction.
Even if you’re skeptical of figures provided by the federal government’s drug-fighting agencies, consider this: There are an estimated 600,000 or so heroin addicts in the U.S. Given its lethal dangers, heroin has all the headlines right now, but it is far from the most common drug of abuse.
Think oxycodone, benzodiazepines, Percocet; throw in methamphetamine, and cocaine. For starters.
If even those five drugs generated the same level of addiction as heroin, once you add in the heroin figures you start bumping up against four million number.
Palm Beach Post ReportersChristine StapletonandPat Beall are covering the four-day Summit live from Atlanta. The two are members of a Post team of reporters investigating scams in Palm Beach County’s $1 billion drug treatment industry.
It’s taken a while- a few years, actually- but today Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, which establishes a needle exchange for addicts.
Once politically unthinkable, the state’s soaring rates of IV drug use- and deaths- have slowly made the idea of providing clean needles to addicts acceptable.
Credit the track record of needle exchanges in reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. That helps explain why the Florida Medical Association threw its considerable weight behind the pilot program, and why a Republican-led Congress has lifted the ban on using federal money for such exchanges.
Florida’s program is, however, just a pilot. And the University of Miami won’t be able to use state or local tax dollars to get it up and running and keep it going.
But in a written statement, Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed optimism: “Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida,” he wrote.
“We should recognize as a community that we cannot derive profit off the punishment and rehabilitation of kids,” said Gordon Weekes, the Broward County chief assistant public defender who for years has locked horns with YSI over the treatment of kids in its care.
“This should never have been a profit center.”
Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice long ago began putting the care and treatment
of juveniles bound for residential, treatment or detention facilities into the hands of private companies.
YSI was among the first to ink contracts and among the first to start chalking up troubling reports dating to its mid-1990s management of a Pahokee lockup: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence.
Last week, DJJ announced it was severing the company’s seven contracts as part of a whistleblower suit settlement. The whistleblowers, all former YSI employees, had reported, among other things: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence. (YSI said that, even though the suit was without merit, it settled because it wanted to put the long-running litigation behind it. )
But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona director for the American Friends Service Committee, “This is not about a single bad actor or a few bad apples. It is inherent in the effort to make money and is driven by the concerns and needs of shareholders.”
“Oh, I never fault the companies on this stuff,” said Paul Wright. That’s a bit out of left field coming from Wright, a former prison inmate, the founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of the award-winning Prison Legal News, which has for years has taken on prison privatization in all its manifestations.
But, said Wright, nobody should be surprised when a for-profit company finds ways to make profits.
“Let’s take them at their word they are in the business of making money,” he said. Cutting costs is part of the deal, he pointed out.
“It’s not their fault that government continues to shovel money at them.”
Weekes said YSI’s exit give DJJ an opportunity: a small, state-run facility that incorporates the best practices of juvenile detention. “Take the the profits we are paying to companies and get down to core element of what a child needs to get back on the right track,” he said. “Once we have best practices, we can replicate that.
“We can’t just keep throwing good money after bad at the YSIs of the world.”