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Purported Mix-Up At Courthouse Leads to Local’s Incarceration

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On Friday, April 12, Nichole Meadows attempted to appear in mental health court for a felony case. Unfortunately for Meadows, she was unable to appear before a judge, but it was not for a lack of trying on her part.

Nichole’s caretaker and former boyfriend, James Gibbons, relayed to the Sun that, upon her arrival, she was turned away and told that court was not in session. Why was that? While the family was told that it was due to a power outage, the timing of the system failure also aligns with the cyber-attack on the county’s systems that occurred earlier this year.

The Sun reached out to the County Clerk’s Office for further information on the days that the court was and was not in session, but there has not been any response yet on the matter. We will continue to investigate the issue and provide updates when possible.

The family’s tragic saga started two Christmases ago when Meadows and Gibbons found the woman’s two brothers dead of drug overdoses. This affected Nichole greatly, who was already diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Over the following months, her condition continued to deteriorate rapidly, and the family experienced difficulty finding her psychiatric help.

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Gibbons stated that on July 1 of last year, it came to a head when the police were called to Baker Act Meadows during one of her episodes and emphasized that no crime had been committed. The arrest affidavit states that while the two responding deputies attempted to place her into custody for her safety, she grew increasingly agitated and she spit on one of the officers who entered her room and started to strike the other officer in the head. She continued to actively resist and one of the officers used his Taser to finally subdue her. She was subsequently charged with a third-degree felony for battery on an officer and a first-degree misdemeanor for resisting an officer without violence. It was not at all what the family had expected, as she had been Baker Acted before with little issue.

On prior occasions, Meadows would get the care she needed when she would have an “episode,” and be released back to her family afterward. Gibbons was bewildered by the altercation but feels the county and the sheriff’s office need more resources so they are better equipped to handle the cases of those who suffer from mental health problems.

“I understand the sheriff’s department is understaffed,” said Gibbons. “I understand how difficult it can be to deal with people with mental issues, especially when they are in acute psychosis or a delusional state. It can be dangerous. I do not discount the job those people have to do.”

Fast forward to April 12, Nichole was to appear in court because of the prior year’s events. Gibbons admitted that Meadows was late for her appointed time because “the urgency of the court does not make sense to a paranoid schizophrenic,” but her tardiness would not likely matter much in this instance. Nichole’s caretaker also pointed out that she had previously been ruled incompetent due to being a paranoid schizophrenic.

“The court had already deemed her unfit, unable, or not competent enough to stand trial,” James said. Regardless, a bench warrant was put out for her arrest and Nichole is now in jail on a $12,000 bond. Gibbons may be unable to pay the amount as he had already paid her bond after last year’s incident.

The high cost of the bond puts them all between a rock and a hard place. If James exhausts every dollar he has to bail her out, he will not have any money to provide her with the care she needs when she gets out of jail. Ultimately, James will work to resolve this issue however he can because he loves and cares for Nichole.

“This mental health court has sapped us emotionally, financially, and I am looking at spending the last dollars, not on Nichole’s treatment, but either to bail her out or to hire a lawyer to try to defend us.” While she has a public defender, he has neither returned their calls nor appeared to make a concerted effort to see her, noted Gibbons.

James insisted that Nichole needs transportation, a doctor, and a treatment plan, with extra emphasis on transportation. He hopes to see the county improve its public transportation moving forward. This would help others suffering from mental health problems like Meadows as well.

While Gibbons noted that Nichole would not want to be “the face of what is wrong with mental health in Hernando County” and others around the country, he felt her story was too important not to at least be made known.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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