Monday, August 18, 2008

Deal near for mentally ill woman -
Panama City (FL) News Herald

By S. Brady Calhoun / August 18, 2008

PANAMA CITY — The case of a mentally ill woman who has waited more than two years for her day in court might be close to a resolution.

Prosecutors have offered Debbie Wazlavek a deal under which she would be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Her next court date is Sept. 2.

"We're trying to get all the details worked out so we can get it taken care of by the court date," said Joel Margules, Wazlavek's attorney. "I think we have it worked out."

Wazlavek is accused of attacking neighbor Tony Walker, a sergeant with the Bay County Sheriff's Office, in September 2006. She has stayed in jail on a $17,500 bond or in a state mental facility since Walker arrested her. The case has not gone to trial because Wazlavek was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.

Walker said Wazlavek attacked him and his wife with a pipe until he disarmed and arrested her. Wazlavek's children say Walker acted inappropriately by investigating the matter himself and taking her to jail instead of a mental facility.

On July 22, Debbie's son, Aaron Wazlavek, filed a complaint against Walker and against the Panama City police officers who responded to the Cove-area home. Walker told a Panama City officer to file a report and he did, but no further action was taken in the case.

Aaron Wazlavek, 23, said he does not hold out much hope the Bay County Sheriff's Office will agree with his family's contention that the situation was mishandled.

"Basically, it's just good ol' boys backing up good ol' boys," he said.

Aaron Wazlavek's complaint alleges that Walker failed to follow Bay County Sheriff's Office policies about getting involved in neighborhood disputes, handling people with disabilities and calling for a neutral third party to investigate.

"It's like they said (to) lock her up and throw away the key just because Tony said so," Aaron Wazlavek said.

The complaint to Panama City said their officers should have investigated a situation in their city. Panama City officials have dismissed the complaint.

"There were no inappropriate actions that night on our part," PCPD Capt. Robert Colbert said.

Bay County Sheriff's officials still are studying the matter.

"The investigation into this complaint is ongoing," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Ruth Sasser. She added that Walker cannot talk about an open complaint filed against him until the investigation has been completed.

However, when the issue was first raised by The News Herald, Bay County officials said Walker acted appropriately by contacting his supervisor and the Panama City Police Department. He previously said Debbie Wazlavek was a "nuisance in the community," who lived without power or water for two years and frequently bothered her neighbors.

"Nobody ever believed that she was dangerous, but that she was mentally off," Walker said in July. "That day, there was no doubt. She had a piece of pipe and was swinging it at my wife and at me."

Meanwhile, the judicial system has struggled with what to do with Debbie Wazlavek.

The not guilty by reason of insanity is just the latest plea deal offered to her. A previous attempt at a deal fell through because of her uncertain living situation. The deals have hinged on a family member having the ability and being willing to take Debbie Wazlavek, her family said.

If she is released, Wazlavek's family is hopeful there will be no future confrontations with law enforcement.

"My brother and I working together to help her, and hopefully that will prevent any future problems," Debbie's daughter, Amber Wazlavek said. "I hope that she will have access to the help that she needs. ... Hopefully, the system will be more aware."