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Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
July 1, 1994
Chris Brennan and Dan Klepal
Tribune Staff Writers
PORT ST. LUCIE – The mother of a man accused of bank robbery said she called police three weeks before his arrest, asking them to take her son into custody because he was delusional.
But Beverly LeFrancois said police told her they could not take Charles Phillips into custody because he did not present a danger to himself or anyone else.
Phillips ended up in jail this week on a bank robbery charge.
LeFrancois said her 37-year-old son went to Orlando three weeks ago to look for a job. He called her from there, telling her he was working undercover for the government and that his mental illness had been a cover story.
“I begged him to come home,” she said. “I even lied and told him there were people from the government here that needed to talk to him.”
LeFrancois reported Phillips missing and asked police to pick him up June 11 when he returned home.
But police refused to take her son away, LeFrancois said.
“They refused to help a man who was mentally ill,” she said. “They said he was not a danger to himself or anyone else.”
On Monday, Phillips allegedly donned a red wig, smeared lipstick around his mouth, and pulled a purple baseball hat down on his head before entering the Riverside National Bank, 8000 South U.S. 1, and robbing it.
Tellers told police Phillips gave them a note saying he had a gun and demanding money. He left the bank with a briefcase full of cash but two customers captured him outside and held him until St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputies arrived.
LeFrancois said the robbery could have been avoided if her son had been committed when she called police.
A state law called the Baker Act allows police to take people into custody, usually to have them committed to a mental institution, if they: have attempted or threatened to commit suicide, are harming themselves, are under extreme stress, are suffering hallucinations, are hysterical or require mental health treatment because of an existing court order.
“It’s pretty much up to an officer’s discretion,” police spokeswoman Theresa Woodson said. Attorney Juan Torres said if police made a judgment error by not taking Phillips into custody, then his client can use that to help his defense.
“I’m not sure whether he met the conditions of Baker Act,” Torres said. “And I’m not sure who made the determination, if that person was qualified to make the determination, or if they had all the facts.”
Torres said he will use an insanity defense on behalf of his client. “His poor delusional mind led him to this,” LeFrancois said. “I am totally furious. This is the big case of the year for them.”
Torres said Phillips, who is being investigated as a possible suspect in three other recent bank robberies, is mentally unstable and could not have been involved in any of the other heists.
“He has a longstanding psychological condition and it is virtually impossible for him to be involved in any of the other bank robberies,” Torres said. “He didn’t even need to do this one. There is no way he was sane at the time.”
Torres said his client had between $10,000 and $12,000 before the robbery. Phillips also had been taking mood-altering drugs, such as Zoloft, Prozac and lithium for the past 18 months, according to Torres.
“I went and saw him at New Horizons for the first time last night and he was catatonic,” Torres said. “His mental stability is such that he is basically in and out of reality.”
Record Number: 1018BFC965841343