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When Passion for Industry Reform Transforms Advocates to Vigilantes

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at March 9, 2017

It was a year ago when the Palm Beach Post’s Christine Stapleton wrote about “young recovering addicts – frustrated with the pace of the investigation of shady business practices in the sober home industry – continued their efforts to crack down on what they say are corrupt sober homes by protesting outside a Lake Worth apartment complex where three addicts overdosed last week.”

Protesters said they were frustrated that law enforcement and state health officials had yet to shut down any sober homes or arrested owners and operators despite their complaints. In 2014 an FBI task force began investigating the industry and raided two sober homes. However, no charges had been filed.

Utilizing the power of social media and the ability to quickly organize using Facebook, citizen advocates (almost exclusively from the recovery community) organized a protest at alleged “flop houses” throughout Palm Beach County.

A lot has changed since that time.

Over 20 arrests. The federal indictment of the infamous Kenny Chapman. Continued investigations and a request for more robust funding for state regulator.

Yes, it appears that some citizen advocates have not had enough.

Rather than allowing law enforcement to do its job, some advocates (feeling empowered with a platform) have morphed into vigilantes, which actually caused the State Attorney’s Office to issue a warning.

Definition of “Vigilante”: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice.

In modern times, the use of Facebook and other chat groups has led to a readily available platform to defame/slander treatment providers and housing providers who do not do as these “vigilantes” desire.

At what point does public pressure turn to extortion?

While these people in these groups believe they are well-intentioned (and I personally think they believe they are), the reality is that some are acting in the role unlicensed and untrained interventionists themselves, whose only clinical experience is having a son or daughter be subjected to the never-ending treadmill of unethical drug and alcohol treatment providers.

The end result? Treatment providers are scared to debate with these people out of fear of a malicious response in one of the many chat groups. They and their employees fear that the entire treatment industry is being set up to be out of business. Maybe that is what the “advocates” want. Maybe they want us to go back to the days of only 12-Step meetings.

But where does free speech end and the ability to legally respond begin?

For one, there is Florida Statutes s. 836.05 entitled “Threats; extortion” which provides:

Whoever, either verbally or by a written or printed communication, maliciously threatens to accuse another of any crime or offense, or by such communication maliciously threatens an injury to the person, property or reputation of another, or maliciously threatens to expose another to disgrace, or to expose any secret affecting another, or to impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will, shall be guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

There is also Part II of Chapter 501 of the Florida Statutes, the “Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act”, modeled after the Federal Trade Practices Act, which provides a civil/private cause of action for those who “don’t play nice in the sandbox” when it comes to commercial dealings and our national economy (“Unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.”).

These advocates, whether paid or not, have now “entered the stream of commerce” and therefore are subject to the law’s reach.

Third, and certainly not last, are allegations of “Tortious Interference with Business Relationship”. Yes, a treatment center/client relationship is a business relationship with its patient. The elements of “Tortious Interference with Business Relationship” are as follows: (1) existence of business relationship; (2) knowledge of relationship on part of defendant; (3) intentional and unjustified interference with relationship by defendant; and (4) damage to plaintiff as result of breach of relationship.

Make no mistake – the recovery and treatment industry is a very large employer and generates a tremendous amount of public tax dollars, which the state is not so willing to see walk away, particularly in this age of drug epidemic and minimal funding of public treatment beds.

Now that State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his office have been given the tools to take a robust stance on prosecution, it would seem that the vigilante heroes can (and should) allow the rule of law to take effect.

We are, notwithstanding, a nation of laws.

The laws are to be equally applied and no one is above the law.

If anything, vigilante heroes, in the end, lose credibility and the platform and voice they have worked so hard to obtain in the first place.

Working “outside” the system only serves to alienate and ostracize. Stated otherwise, the message is lost due to the messenger.

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