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Mother of Palmetto man who died following police encounter asks BOCC to consider CALL program


BRADENTON — Tracy Washington, the mother of Breonte Johnson-Davis, a Palmetto man who died following an interaction with police in which he was twice tasered, appeared before the Manatee County Commission at Tuesday's meeting to ask that the board consider implementing a program aimed at improving community responses to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Palmetto Police Department responded to a call at a Circle K on Nov 1, 2023. Upon arrival, Johnson-Davis, 36, jumped onto the police cruiser and began banging on its windshield while screaming. Officers attempted to subdue him as he continued to wail out in high-pitched screams. Johnson-Davis attempted to flee and was taken to the ground by two officers. When they were unable to apply handcuffs, a Taser was briefly employed, and when they failed again to subdue him, it was deployed a second time.

Johnson was then taken into custody, where police say he suffered a drug-induced medical episode shortly after. He was treated by paramedics and taken to a hospital, where he died the following day. The medical examiner's report listed the cause of death as multiple organ failure following resuscitation from cardiac arrest due to "spontaneous ventricular arrhythmia" and "acute intoxication with methamphetamine," along with a second synthetic stimulant.

Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether officers had conducted themselves appropriately. Tyler declined to release bodycam footage from the incident while the investigation was active, leading many in the community to speculate that the department was covering up police misconduct during the incident.

The FDLE investigation concluded that officers had not used excessive force in deploying a Taser two times on Davis. Backed by the medical examiner's report that it was not a factor in his death, the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. The body cam footage was ultimately released. It was consistent with officers' accounts of the incident. In the footage, two of the officers can be observed laughing in the wake of the Taser incident, one saying that he did not expect Johnson-Davis to jump onto the car and both agreeing he was "tweaking hard." Tweaking is a commonly used term for erratic behavior while under the influence of methamphetamine.

Washington said that her son had a history of mental health issues and that she believed he was suffering from one during the encounter. She pleaded with commissioners to consider implementing the Community Assistance and Life Liaison program. CALL sends social workers to certain calls for service, including mental health crises, suicide intervention, truancy, homeless complaints, and neighborhood disputes.

The City of St. Petersburg began piloting CALL in 2021 and Washinton said that Tampa has just announced it will adopt it as well. 

"If this program was implemented in Manatee County, I feel as if Breonte would still be alive," Washington told commissioners. "So, I just ask the commission to please consider bringing the CALL program to our county. We not only need it city-wide, but we need it county-wide. It's needed all across the nation, really, but I just ask that we start with our community."

Commissioner Amanda Ballard, whose district includes Palmetto, was one of two commissioners to respond to Washington's pleas during the "public comments on future agenda items" portion of the meeting. Ballard did not speak directly to Washington's request regarding CALL but instead listed a number of mental health support services currently available in Manatee County.

Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge began his comments with a public dressing down of Commission Chair Mike Rahn for allowing what he found to be unacceptable comments from other members of the public who showed up to speak on the matter.  Some used the term "killer cops" in their descriptions of the events that preceded Johnson-Davis' death, which Van Ostendbridge thought was enough to restrict their speech.  

For his part, Rahn seemed sufficiently chastened, bowing his head and seeming to mutter that Van Ostenbridge—who has been called the "shadow chair," as many see him as the commissioner running the board majority—had been well understood.

Van Ostenbridge, who often seems to relish in confrontation with those who do not share his ideology and has himself demonstrated incivility from the dais on many occasions, said that while he felt for those who came in to speak, "significant facts were left out of their statements, including the toxicology report, including the fact that this gentleman was alive when he left our EMS care, and died hours later at Manatee Memorial."

"It's a shame that he died," continued Van Ostenbridge, "but you don't get to then come up here and take a tragedy and use it as part of what we know is a much larger movement to attack police and to attack first responders."

Van Ostenbrige said that the county already funds Centerstone, which makes the Mobile Crisis Intervention Center available. He said that the MCIC will respond physically to locations and assist law enforcement and other agencies to help de-escalate a crisis situation. 

"I appreciate everyone coming and bringing (CALL) to our attention," said Van Ostenbridge, "but luckily, we do have something like that that already exists in Manatee County. Medics and our EMS know about it. Fire knows about it; our police officers and our sheriff's office know about it, as well."

CALL, which St. Pete implemented in partnership with Gulf Coast JFCS, was created with the stated goals of:

  • Reduce police involvement in non-criminal and non-violent calls for service.
  • Reduce repeat calls for service to police from the same person by providing support and longer-term service connections.
  • Provide a more compassionate approach to quality of life issues.
  • Increase the amount of time our sworn officers can focus on keeping our City safe.


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  • Cat L

    My feeling is that Van Ostenbrige and Ballard could have been more compassionate, rather than admonishing her for not knowing the existing services. Her son still died. And, how could those existing services have helped Breonte? Did they fail?

    Wednesday, April 24 Report this