Kate laid out her version of the incident to her lawyers, who were even more transfixed when the conversation detoured to daily life in the program. Residents were tied down and injected for minor infractions, Kate explained.
Kate would later tell investigators from the Broward Sheriff's Office that she had been physically restrained 14 times, "and in each instance she was administered medicine (chemical restraint) in which she became 'loopy.' " She "felt medical personnel at Citrus never checked her vital signs when these incidents occurred" and "personnel would also yell and use profanity during these instances."
"We were shocked," Weekes says. "It was sickening that the staffers would become so cold and callous toward these young girls that they would think it was appropriate to tie them down and knock them out routinely."
Still, both attorneys knew to step carefully when dealing with accusations from tough kids. "With any child making any allegations, you are concerned that they had an agenda, so you always want to corroborate," Hittleman says. In the following weeks, the lawyers trekked back out to CATS to interview other residents. "They all told the same or similar stories time and time again. It was ordinary for these young ladies."
In early August, Weekes penned a letter to Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. He outlined the complaints relayed by Kate and other Citrus residents in four points: (1) Kate had been pepper-sprayed and punched by an officer; (2) "Female patients are commonly placed in isolation for prolonged periods of time using a four-point physical restraint technique"; (3) "Minor girls are routinely tied face-down to a bed for minor infractions, without the staff first employing less restrictive alternatives"; and (4) "While tied down by their arms and legs, chemical sedatives are routinely administered to further subdue female patients."
Weekes released the video clip of security-camera footage from the April fight that showed the police officer punching Kate. After media outlets aired the clip, DCF promised to investigate.
Then, a few days after Kate's knockout was filling the top slot on the evening news, a Citrus resident died.
On an afternoon in December 2012, Tanisha Howell sat in the waiting room at CATS. Her 14-year-old son, Octavious, squirmed beside her. This was the last best hope for her baby boy.
In the crib, they had dubbed him "butterball." He had plump cheeks no one could resist kissing. Later, when Octavious began slaying school placement tests, "Einstein" was the new tag. Howell, an executive secretary for Miami-Dade County; and her husband, Robert, a nurse, saw a big personality busting through the spunky kid with jutting ears. He told everyone he was going to study entrepreneurship at Yale University. Before the Howells rounded out their family with three additional kids, Octavious would beg his mom not to have any more children. He wanted her all to himself. "He was a very affectionate, passionate little boy," Howell says.
But by age 3, Octavious would sometimes throw violent tantrums. In school, he'd smash a chair against a window or bolt for traffic. "He'd apologize when it was over," Howell says. "Then he'd do good for a little bit, but when something didn't go his way, he'd start the cycle all over."
He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, with an oppositional defiant disorder. He was prescribed a battery of meds. Howells hopped her son from program to program for kids with behavioral problems. When he reached middle school, the problems ballooned.
He began running away, eventually notching 22 disappearances. Every time, Howell filed a police report, then spent a sleepless night waiting. Several times, Octavious would be involuntarily institutionalized into Jackson Memorial Hospital under the Baker Act. It was there that someone first suggested Howell look into the Citrus Health Network.
Founded in 1978, the nonprofit today is a string of health facilities for low-income adults and kids, with revenue of $54 million per year. According to its website, Citrus serves 10,000 people annually, half of them minors. The network runs two main health clinics, crisis mental health centers for adults and juveniles, and substance abuse programs. It also provides school-based programs and housing for people who are homeless, mentally ill, and/or transitioning out of foster care.
As part of its sprawling network, Citrus operates two residential facilities for troubled kids under 18 — a 16-bed facility in Hialeah for boys under 14 and CATS in Pembroke Pines, which houses boys and girls between 14 and 18.