What to Know About The Baker Act and Why It Doesn’t Always Prevent Tragedies like The Alleged Brutal Attack on A Venice Dog

Mental state of Venice man now in question

SARASOTA (WWSB) - The mental state of the Venice man, who allegedly brutally killed dog this past weekend, is now in question. Aaron Merwine remains behind bars this evening, but police are telling us that a mental evaluation will be performed in the next coming days.

“I didn't want to just throw him out, but I was getting to that point, so I told him he had to check himself in because all the warning signs were there, but I just didn't think he'd kill Lucky… not the dog he loved,” Merwine’s father, James Mucha, explained to us.

Aaron Merwine was arrested on Saturday night after allegedly beating an eight-pound chihuahua to death with a shovel right outside his home in Venice. A dog that he had a close relationship with which his family says shows he was not himself.

"I did Baker Act him a few months back, but they only held him for 48 hours,” Mucha said.

His parents say he should have never been released, but Florida laws have their limitations.

“People feel like when people come to a psychiatric facility, they’re here for a long term stay, but they’re really not. They’re short term because you’re basically detaining someone against their will,” Terry Cassidy, the Executive Director of the Bayside Center for Behavioral Health, said.

So, this has turned the question to what a baker act can actually do, and why family members are able to request one?

“They may not be aware that they need help, so it allows that individual to be temporarily detained for an examination and treatment for up to 72 hours,” Cassidy explained.

Patients will be under 24-hour monitoring by medical experts to analyze if they are a threat to themselves or others… and doctors will look for symptoms to see if they do have any type of mental illness in order to get them on a proper medical plan.

“Many would be surprised to know that one in five people suffer from at least one type of mental illness,” Cassidy continued.

However, if after those 72 hours, doctors do not see anything worrisome, they have no choice but to let them go. They will give family members warning signs to look for though.

So what does this mean for Aaron Merwine?

“It’s completely up to the State Attorney’s Office. We enforce the law. The state will prosecute, and what decision they make based off of his mental evaluation is completely up to them,” Lieutenant Mike Dumer, from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, told us.

For those who may find themselves in a similar situation with a family member or a friend, there are resources available to help you navigate through the process. Here are the three facilities in Sarasota and Bradenton that are Baker Act Receiving facilities: Bayside Center for Behavioral Health, Coastal Behavioral Healthcare and Suncoast Behavioral Health.

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