Baker-acted Scientologist released

[Tampa Tribune 3 March 1997]

3/30/97 -- 1:56 PM

Baker-acted Scientologist released By SEAN LENGELL of The Tampa Tribune

Published in The Tampa Tribune March 3, 1997

CLEARWATER - A woman who was taken into police custody for a psychiatric evaluation after running barefoot from a Church of Scientology building and jumping into Clearwater Harbor has been released from the hospital, a church spokesman said Sunday.

A Clearwater police officer on patrol early Saturday saw the woman sprint from the former Fort Harrison Hotel building downtown, used as a residence by the church, followed by a security guard.

The officer followed the woman and offered assistance, but she kept running until arriving at the Sandcastle Hotel on Osceola Avenue, another Scientology residence.

She then jumped into about 1 foot of water in Clearwater Harbor, in back of the Sandcastle.

The woman appeared distraught, so police admitted her to Morton Plant Hospital under the state's Baker Act, which allows for the temporary committal of those who pose a physical threat to themselves or others.

Church spokesman Brian Anderson said the woman, a Scientologist visiting from New Jersey with her two small children, checked into the hotel Friday night. About 5:40 a.m. Saturday, she went to the lobby and told a security guard that she needed help because of an emergency at the Sandcastle, Anderson said.

The 36-year-old woman asked the guard if he had a car, and when he said he didn't, she ran out the door, Anderson said.

The guard radioed the Sandcastle before running to the hotel to assist, Anderson said.

There apparently was no emergency at the Sandcastle. The woman later told church officials and police she was upset about the loss of her husband, who died last summer, Anderson said.

Anderson said the church did not object to the woman receiving psychiatric treatment, saying that the case was ``a private matter.''

``I think [utilization of the Baker Act] was unnecessary, as evident by her release,'' Anderson said.

The woman's family arrived from out of town Sunday and is caring for her, Anderson said.

Anderson denied that the woman was trying to leave the church.

``That [question] is absolutely asinine, she was just trying to go to another Scientology building,'' Anderson said.

The incident occurred as the Clearwater Police Department, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who was pronounced dead at a Pasco County hospital.

Seventeen days before her death, McPherson, 36, was involved in a minor car accident where she received no injuries. According to police, she got out of her vehicle, exhibited ``unusual behavior'' and removed her clothing at the scene.

She was taken by ambulance to Morton Plant, where doctors wanted to admit her for psychiatric treatment.

Scientologists, however, persuaded McPherson to leave with them to return to the Fort Harrison Hotel. The hospital released her to the church.

An autopsy by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood stated that McPherson suffered from ``severe dehydration'' and had bruises and bites that likely were caused by cockroaches. In comments to reporters, Wood said McPherson was comatose for 24 to 48 hours before a blood clot killed her.

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