tampabay.com

House hopeful in mental health facility

District 61 Democratic candidate Donovan Brown says Will Weatherford as his new opponent was too much.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published October 6, 2006


Donovan Brown, the Democratic nominee in the race for Florida House District 61, said Thursday he is currently confined in a mental health facility under the Baker Act.

Brown, 26, said he was admitted late last week to the Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute in New Port Richey.

Now he is yearning to get out, to get back on the campaign trail and prime voters ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

"I need to be out with my constituents," he said in a phone interview from the Harbor.

A Pasco Democratic Party official on Thursday confirmed Brown remains the nominee in the legislative race.

District 61, which covers much of east and central Pasco and a small block in Hillsborough, has been held by Republican Ken Littlefield since 1999. He dropped out of the race and resigned from the Legislature last month to take a spot on the Public Service Commission.

To replace Littlefield, Republican leaders chose Will Weatherford of Land O'Lakes, who is also 26. He will face Brown on Nov. 7, though Littlefield's name remains on the ballot.

Though he has battled problems for years, it was that series of events, Brown said, that sent him into a mental tailspin and landed him at the Harbor.

"They tried to choose a candidate who most unnerved me," Brown said of Republican leaders. "I think they quite succeeded in that."

Littlefield's resignation rankled him because, in Brown's words, the legislator chose a high-paying job over his commitment to District 61.

"I was very angry. I just can't even express it," he said.

Then the choice of Weatherford, another youthful candidate, got under Brown's skin.

"I feel they were trying to make a point - mirror me as much as possible," he said.

He retreated, he said, taking long walks alone and sleeping little.

Brown gave the following version of what happened next:

His mother became concerned, and last week the two went to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills so he could be evaluated. At his mother's urging, Brown went to the Harbor in an ambulance.

Once there, Brown said, he watched a video about water and in his mind linked it to the biblical story of Noah. Then he was taken to a shower and encouraged to step in to be purified.

"There were a lot of things on (the video) suggesting you'd be a bad person if you didn't step in the water. I wanted my mom to step in the water. I didn't hurt her in any way. I kind of helped her to it. I put her in the shower," he said.

"That's the reason I think they Baker-Acted me."

Brown said he was formally admitted to the Harbor at that point and not allowed to leave.

The Baker Act allows people to be held for psychological evaluation. Brown said he splashed his mother - an act that prompted hospital staffers to pin him to the ground - because he knew he needed a doctor's attention.

Brown's mother did not return a phone message Thursday.

A Harbor official would not confirm his presence there.

Brown says he wants desperately to leave the facility. He says he has not acted violently or committed any crime. He is preoccupied by the Republican side of the House race and questions Weatherford's place.

"There should not be a way that at the very last minute you can replace somebody and the public not really know who they're voting for," he said.

Florida law allows party officials to name a replacement in the event of a candidate's resignation or death.

Told the news of Brown's hospitalization, Weatherford said his prayers are with him.

"Clearly we want the best for his health and stability," Weatherford said. "I hope he gets better."

Alison Morano, chairwoman of Pasco's Democratic Party, said she spoke with Brown a few days ago. She would not comment on his personal situation.

"He is his own candidate. He is running his own race. It is his decision," Morano said.

"The Democratic Party is here for all of our candidates."

The party aided him during the qualifying period, she said, but did not recruit him to run and has not supported his campaign financially.

Among his mental problems, Brown mentioned obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizo affective disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Dorothy Lekarczyk, a clinical psychologist in Dade City, said those conditions could make leading a normal life difficult.

She said symptoms of schizo affective disorder include thought and mood disturbance, depression, mania and hallucinations.

"Many times it can be very debilitating," Lekarczyk said.

As with all mental illnesses, it's a matter of severity.

"What really is a critical factor is the quality of help that is obtained - if the person is insightful enough that they can follow through with treatment," Lekarczyk said.

Brown said he takes medication for his conditions and believed he had overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In fact, that was part of his motivation for seeking office - to prove to himself he was better.

"I'm not going to withdraw," he said Thursday. "I'm a good kid."