JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Over the past few months, News4Jax reported to you about some troubling cases of violence that have one thing in common: Police say they happened at the hands of someone with a documented mental illness. One of those crimes was the death of 59-year-old Janette Harriford.
Jamette's schizophrenic son, 29-year-old Henry "Sean" Harriford, who goes by Sean, killed her last October. His brother, Johnathan Harriford, is sharing his story with News4Jax because he wants people to know he and his mother desperately tried to get his brother help, but he feels for people with a severe mental illness, there is simply nowhere to turn.
Jonathan says symptoms of Sean's schizophrenia started appearing in his late teens.
"My mom would tell me stories about my brother would think the VCR is possessed or the VCR is talking to him. Besides that there were a couple of times where he got violent. That's where they put the protective order against him," said Jonathan.
Sean had been Baker Acted -- or held against his will in a mental health facility because he was a threat to himself or to others -- 17 times. But you can only be held 72 hours each time. Police say Sean killed his mother when she refused to give him money. Jonathan says he believes his brother was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode.
"I do. I really do because the love he had for my mom and she had for him. Obviously if he was in a rational mind he wouldn't have done anything like this," Jonathan added.
Denise Marzullo is the President
of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida and heard what happened to the Harrifords. She also knows for someone with a severe mental illness like Sean, the way the system is set up, it's not helpful to anyone.
"It's not fair. It's not fair to the community. It's not fair to public safety. It's not fair to family members. And it's not fair to the person with the mental illness," said Marzullo.
Some have questioned whether bringing back mental institutions would make it more safe for people suffering with severe mental illness and those around them. But that question has no easy answers. Years ago, when lawmakers agreed to close institutions because patients were being mistreated, money was put into community based treatment centers. But over the years, the funding has been cut.
Out of 50 states, Florida comes in second-to-last in how much money it
spends on mental health. And in Duval County, the jail is the biggest provider of mental health services. Jail Director Tara Wildes doesn't think that's right.
News4Jax asked her if she believed a lot of people who should be in a mental health treatment facility end up in the jail instead.
"I'm not sure a lot, but I do know that if people had treatment earlier on in their lifespan when they develop their mental illness, we know that will prevent them from progressing to the point where they end up in our jail," replied Wildes.
Sean is now being treated at the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee. His brother, Jonathan traveled there and says because of his illness, Sean doesn't even know what's happened to their mom.
"Knowing him a little bit fro
m the past, it's going to destroy him. I, really truly...out of everybody on the planet, he loved my mom so much. Obviously I'm mad at what has transpired and I have a lot of grief, but I don't want to lose my brother too, if that makes sense. He's worth fighting for. He has a good soul inside of there and he's my brother," said Jonathan.
Sean Harriford has been declared incompetent by the courts. Once he gets treatment and is declared competent, he'll then be put on trial for the murder of his mother.
Right now, the Florida Legislature is not considering bringing back mental institutions, but mental health proponents were very hopeful this was going to be the year of positive change for the system.
Keep in mind, Florida has not increased its mental health funding in 20 years. This year, they were asking for $50 million and they were hoping they'd get a portion -- if not all of that funding. But now that the Legislature ended three days early because of a disagreement over Medicaid expansion, all of the mental health bills, as well as 70 percent of all other bills, are dead. It remains to be seen just how much funding they'll get.