Friday, May 24

How did detainee in maximum-risk facility walk free from HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital?

A maximum security detainee spent more than a month on the loose after police said he walked out of a hospital.

After a nearly five-week search for the fugitive ended with an arrest, WPTV has uncovered new details about how the inmate could simply walk free.

Justice Reynolds, 19, was being held at the Everglades Youth Academy, a maximum-risk facility for juvenile offenders.

On the night of Feb. 1, Fort Pierce police said Reynolds walked out of HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital. Reynolds was on the run until March 6, when the U.S. Marshals Service arrested him in Orange County.

According to police, Reynolds is from the Orlando area and friends of his family acted as informants.

The morning after Reynolds’ escape, the hospital released a statement that read, in part, “typically patients who are in custody of law enforcement are accompanied by officers and in those circumstances we have protocols for admission and discharge of these types of patients.”

The problem, according to police, was those protocols were never in place because hospital staff were not aware that Reynolds was in law enforcement custody.

Because Reynolds was serving a sentence as a juvenile offender, his criminal records are not publicly available like those in adult court systems.

“He’s got a couple pages worth of history, a lot of it being violation of probation,” Detective Jesse Love of the Fort Pierce Police Department said. “But he certainly has a number of charges for burglary and for criminal mischief or vandalism, a couple things involving a firearm, like assault, battery.”

According to Love, Reynolds had expressed suicidal thoughts while in custody at the Everglades Youth Academy, where staff decided to send him for mental health evaluation and care under Florida’s Baker Act.

Love said Reynolds spent about a month at New Horizons of the Treasure Coast, a Fort Pierce facility that is authorized to admit patients under the Baker Act.

“(Reynolds) began complaining of chest pain,” Love said. “Because of that, he was transported from New Horizons over to Lawnwood. Once he got to Lawnwood, he immediately began saying that he is under a voluntary hold and that he now wants to leave. Lawnwood tried to confirm that with New Horizons, and that’s where the miscommunication came in.”

WPTV spoke with New Horizons CEO William Wims about what Love referred to as a “miscommunication” about Reynolds’ inmate status. Wims agreed to answer questions off-camera.

Wims told WPTV that following a review, he found that his staff followed protocol. Those protocols include filling out paperwork to be sent with the patient in the ambulance to the hospital. The paperwork would have noted that Reynolds was in law enforcement custody.

Wims said during his time at New Horizons, Reynolds was not under law enforcement supervision.

In a statement Monday, HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital said, “We cannot discuss specific patient cases because of privacy laws. We can confirm that HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital follows protocols when receiving patients from other facilities. We rely on clear communication and accurate documentation from those facilities to ensure each patient receives the appropriate care.”

“I’ve certainly spoken to the administration for both Lawnwood and for New Horizons about this situation, including recommendations on what to do in the future,” Love said, suggesting that law enforcement officers escort inmates or detainees between facilities.

Reynolds, who according to police has a history of at least one prior escape attempt, is back in law enforcement custody.

He is currently being held in the Orange County jail without a bond. Love said Reynolds will be returned to St. Lucie County where he will answer to escape charges as an adult.

“I’m happy that he’s caught,” Love said. “I’m happy that he didn’t do anything, didn’t harm anybody or any already people that we’re aware of.”

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