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Judge gives guidance to man suing Vero for Baker Act arrest


A federal judge has given former island resident Larry Wilke until Aug. 1 to re-file his complaint against the City of Vero Beach and a Tallahassee hospital for alleged civil rights violations relating to 2014 incidents when the 72-year-old retired civil engineer was hospitalized via Florida’s Baker Act.

Meanwhile, Wilke’s son, Ryan Wilke, 42, a graduate of Vero Beach High School who works in a non-clinical psychology specialty area with Florida State University, has gone on record saying his father’s behavior in the run-up to his hospitalizations was strange for sure.

United States Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos recently issued a detailed five-page order giving Wilke, who filed the suit pro se or as his own legal counsel, detailed instructions on how to craft and file a new complaint that might survive a motion to dismiss. In addition to basic formatting issues, Wilke’s original document did not, Stampelos said, outline the factual basis for the 11 separate charges it alleges.

Wilke must also clarify which charges he is lodging against Vero Beach police and which against the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, its board of directors, parent company and its behavioral health center where Wilke says he was held for 27 days against his will.

Undaunted, Wilke said he will persevere, taking the case as far as necessary. “I believe this case has the potential of going to the Supreme Court of the United States.  My adversaries have too much to lose,” he said Monday.

The suit stems from two involuntary hospitalizations, permitted by Florida Law under the Baker Act, which provides for observation in a mental health facility of individuals thought to be a threat to themselves or others.

The first occurred in Vero after a 911 call to Wilke’s Dahlia Lane residence when he thought he was having a heart attack. The second occurred in Tallahassee when Wilke’s son Ryan took him to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital emergency room to be checked out.

But Wilke connects the Vero Beach incident to two reports he filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation about alleged criminal activity at the now-demolished Surf Club hotel, and a cover-up amongst local police, contending his involuntary confinement was retaliation for the FBI report.

“I do believe the report he filed was credible and that it was true,” Ryan Wilke said, adding that he also believes the stress of being sucked into the knowledge of complex criminal activity and the filing of reports with the FBI took a major toll on his father. Wilke said his father had retired from a very responsible, detail-oriented job as an engineer, and had always been “very high-energy and a very high-functioning person, highly intelligent.”

He said his dad is “one of the most rational, reliable and trustworthy people I know. He’s never done anything criminal. I don’t think he’s even had a traffic ticket.”

The chain of events that led to the lawsuit began when Larry Wilke befriended John Daly, a maintenance man at the Surf Club who was down on his luck and homeless. Wilke and his wife took him in, extending their hospitality for a short time. “That was not too surprising; my parents have always helped people. But it was more, much further than they had ever gone before to help,” Ryan Wilke said.

It was through this outstretched hand to a friend in need that Larry Wilke heard from Daly stories of criminal goings-on – drugs, money laundering, prostitution, illegal immigration – on the Surf Club property, allegedly involving “some extremely wealthy and influential people in the Vero Beach community,” along with members of the Vero Beach city staff and police department.

Ryan Wilke said his father felt Daly should take these reports to authorities, but felt that the homeless man would not be taken seriously if he showed up on his own at the FBI, so he went with him. He also became immersed in what he perceived as a dangerous situation, whereby, Ryan Wilke said, “He felt that someone would come after him and I think he was genuinely fearful.”

That fear, which included a fear of the local police, led him to prepare, just in case someone did come after him. The elder Wilke had no firearms, so he improvised and filled several quart paint cans with gasoline, positioning them around his house, with lit candles nearby. “He thought he could use those to create a diversion if he needed to,” Ryan Wilke said, noting that he was not in Vero at the time, but heard the accounts of what happened from his mom and dad.

So around midnight when police responded to a 911 medical call, that’s apparently what they found, a man who was so afraid that he’d strategically placed what they characterized as fire bombs around his own residence, with his wife also living in the house. It was for this reason that Ryan Wilke encouraged his father to seek some medical evaluation at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital after he was released from his first Baker Act confinement in Vero

“It’s really caused our relationship to be strained. I know my father blames me to some extent about what happened next because I told them at the hospital about the gasoline cans,” Ryan Wilke said. “But I didn’t expect what happened. They took him by van to the Behavioral Health Center down the street and we couldn’t even see him for two days.”

Had his father consented to be placed on medication to control his apparent paranoia, he might have been able to go home, Ryan Wilke said. But he did not want to go that route. Nearly a month later, Wilke was finally released from the two-story, nondescript beige building not far from the main hospital. Wilke and his wife after that moved out of Vero Beach, to Troy, Alabama. He travels from there back and forth to North Florida to handle issues related to his federal lawsuit.

City Manager Jim O’Connor declined to comment on the allegations in the case, saying only that he has yet to be served with the lawsuit, and that the matter has been turned over to the city’s liability insurance company and its attorneys, as is standard procedure with such a case. Larry Wilke said Monday that he’s met with attorneys from the Florida League of Cities in attempts to settle the case, but that those negotiations to date have not been fruitful.