Man arrested 46 times but repeatedly released, committed after I-TEAM investigation

Jacksonville judge orders accused park exposer to Florida mental facility

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man accused of masturbating in front of young children at a Jacksonville park last month was committed to a state mental health facility today for his actions. This, after the State Attorney's Office saw the I-TEAM's initial report where we uncovered 33-year-old Travis Alexander had been taken into custody dozens of times but was repeatedly released back into the community.

Our original story on Alexander followed his Feb. 27 arrest after parents told police he exposed himself to a group of preschool children at Murray Hill Four Corners Park and then began masturbating -- despite the parents' efforts to shield the kids.

The I-TEAM reported that park exposure arrest, but after we did some digging into Alexander's record, we found he had been arrested more than 40 times, held under Florida's Baker Act more than 30 times and residents in the Murray Hill neighborhood where most of the incidents occurred, felt helpless and in fear.

Arrest history

Records show, Alexander has been arrested at least 46 times for incidents all around Murray Hill; 42 times for trespassing, a sexual battery charge in 2013 and that February arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious exhibition (felony charge) and exposure of sexual organs (misdemeanor).

(Skip to a breakdown of Travis Alexander's prior arrests)

But an I-TEAM analysis of Alexanders' prior arrest records found almost every time he was taken into custody, the charges were immediately dropped -- a cycle that has continued since 2004.

So why were criminal charges against Alexander being dropped nearly every time? We learned it's not because he was skirting the system; it's because Alexander has a mental illness and has been deemed unable to stand trial because of it.

Alexander's family says he's been diagnosed as schizophrenic and bipolar; clinical psychologists identify that combination as Schizoaffective Disorder, meaning it's a chronic mental health condition characterized by schizophrenia combined with symptoms of a mood disorder.

Attack victim living in fear 

Following our report on Alexander's arrest for exposing himself to children at Murray Hill Four Corners Park, Scott Baldwin immediately contacted the I-TEAM. He said his wife, Meghan had a story that needed to be heard about Alexander, claiming his wife was attacked by him in 2013 while she was gardening outside their Murray Hill home in broad daylight.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Woman recalls attack in broad daylight

"He was on my back and at that point my pants were around my knees, and I just head butted him and kept ramming him into the porch with my back, just basically I don’t know what to do I’m going to die in a second if I don’t do something," she said. 

Baldwin said she was saved because a garbage truck drove down her street, which allowed her to break free and run to safety. According to the police report of that incident, Alexander stayed at the scene until police arrived, and he never said a word.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson saw our story with Baldwin after Alexander's park arrest and contacted her personally. 

When Baldwin was attacked, Angela Corey was the elected state attorney. She said shared details with Nelson about her attack, shared how she was never notified by anyone that Alexander was released from custody, and how she only found out about his release she saw Alexander walking free in her neighborhood.

Although it's too late for Baldwin to get her day in court, because Corey's office didn't pursue charges in this attack due to Alexander's mental illness -- Baldwin said she's grateful Nelson is taking this community situation seriously.

"I understand that if he’s mentally ill he shouldn't be facing charges, but if he’s that mentally ill, he shouldn't be on the streets either," Baldwin said compassionately of Alexander's condition while adding she's still haunted by her attack. "I don't see him anymore in my dreams and such, like I once did, but it is still there."

Alexander's family trying to help him 

Prior to Alexander's park arrest last month, he was being cared for by his great aunt, Dianne Cobb.

"He means a lot to me and my family." Cobb said emotionally.

She said Alexander became mentally ill at around 19 years old, and she took him in last October after he’d been living on the streets of Murray Hill on and off for 10 years.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Aunt of suspected park exposer

Cobb told the I-TEAM she does not believe Alexander attacked Meghan Baldwin in 2013, and said with the latest park incident, she believes it was just a misunderstanding.

"For them to say he was doing whatever to them kids, I don't think that's Travis because he be around my grandchildren, my great grands, and I don't think he was doing that. I think he was just using the restroom," she said. 

While we were in Cobb's home talking with her, more than a dozen members of Alexander's family arrived in a show of support for him. They explained they had been trying for years to get him the help he needs and were recently successful in getting him off the streets and into Cobb's home last October. 

They said, when Alexander's in their care, they make sure he takes his medication, adding the issue is, his condition leads to him to wander away from home. They said Alexander may ask to go outside to smoke a cigarette -- and have every intention of coming back inside -- but said his mind tells him something different and he will walk miles away, back to Murray Hill, the neighborhood where he grew up and is the most comfortable.

Cobb said she does not think jail or a long-term treatment facility is the solution.

"Give me a little more time with him and maybe I can handle him. Other than that, I don't know the answer," she said.

Rights of the mentally ill

To better understand Alexander, we met with Dr. Justin D’Arienzo, a clinical psychologist in Jacksonville. He’s never personally treated Alexander, but D’Arienzo does have experience working with patients who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar symptoms, known clinically as Schizoaffective Disorder.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Doctor discusses challenges of mental health issues

He said neither condition is usually associated with violence, explaining it is more dangerous for the mentally ill person than it is for the community at large.

"This is extremely complex regarding the legal system." explained D'Arienzo. "These people go in and out of being dangerous to themselves or dangerous to others and then they get hospitalized and then the hospital stabilizes them with medication and then they get reached on the street. If someone doesn't have family that has the resources to care for them then they are often back on the street until another event happens. Even if they are given meds, they either don't take them or run out and don't get refills, and their symptoms reappear."

He said eventually, the cycle ends when something bad happens.

The I-TEAM asked if there is a clear solution for Alexander and the Murray Hill community. 

'That's a great question. Unfortunately, there is this loophole," he said. "The clear solution would have some intermediate treatment for these individuals and long care treatment for the less severe." 

But, he said there currently isn't any such medium- or long-term care mental health facility in Jacksonville, adding it's also not common practice around the country. 

He said bottom line, the Supreme Court has ruled it's unconstitutional to permit an incompetent person to stand trial.

I-TEAM gets results for Alexander, Murray Hill community

Since the charges pursued against Alexander in the park incident included the felony charge of lewd and lascivious exhibition, the law states if he is incompetent to stand trial, he can legally be committed to Florida State Hospital for treatment. And, that's exactly what a judge ordered today.

Alexander's defense team gave the court a report listing a doctors' findings, a report prosecutors did not dispute.

While certain details of Alexander's case are confidential under HIPAA, we do know he will be transferred to a Florida hospital campus where he will remain for at least six months to receive treatment. After six months, his competency to stand trial will be re-evaluated.  

If he is ultimately found competent to stand trial, he will be returned to Jacksonville, and the case will move forward.

If he's not deemed competent in six months, the court may rule to hold him where he will be re-evaluated every year. The current law states, however, he can only be held a maximum of five years -- because in the United States, a mentally ill person cannot be held against their will. 

D'Arienzo reiterated the solution really needs to be a community approach by Alexander's family, his doctors, as well as the people living in Murray Hill.

For instance, if Alexander is spotted and found to be creating a problem, neighbors would know who to call immediately to get him the help he needs. 

But Meghan Baldwin said she and her neighbors aren't sure Alexander ever returning is the right answer. 

"Everybody knows that he's sick and that he needs help and that it's not a matter of he's a bad person, it's just we're tired of being scared," she said.

I-TEAM breakdown of Alexander's prior arrests and releases

Duval County court records show just weeks before the Feb. 27 park incident, Alexander was arrested at a Mobil Gas Station on Edgewood Avenue in Murray Hill for trespassing. 

The police report states it was Alexander's 42nd arrest for trespassing, with nine of them happening at the same exact gas station. The clerk told the responding police officer, "He's (Alexander) been arrested so many times, I lost count."

We found 50 total incidents in and around Murray Hill tied to Alexander. We also found nearly every time Alexander is arrested, the charges are almost immediately dropped and he’s transferred to a mental health facility only to later be released and re-offend.

In 31 cases, the charges were immediately dropped. In another six cases, the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Alexander due to his incompetence. In four cases, we found Alexander did plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and served short jail terms. 

We also found he was held under Florida's Baker Act at least 33 times, but that is only a 72-hour hold. 

In Meghan Baldwin's case, he was charged with a felony. He was found incompetent to stand trial and ordered under the care of the Department of Children and Families. Less than a year later, when those charges were dismissed due to Alexander's continuing incompetence, Alexander was released.

Use the interactive map below to see where Travis Alexander has been arrested.  Locations are based on an I-TEAM analysis of court & police records. News4Jax app users, press the box in the top right corner of the map to view it full screen.

About the Authors: