Jury sides with woman’s claim of Baker Act misuse, awards $500K+ in damages

A federal jury awarded a woman in Miami-Dade County $520,000 in damages for physical and mental harm after she claimed she was wrongly institutionalized for a psychological examination under the Baker Act, a state law that allows for emergency mental health services.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A federal jury awarded a woman in Miami-Dade County $520,000 in damages for physical and mental harm after she claimed she was wrongly institutionalized for a psychological examination under the Baker Act, a state law that allows for involuntary emergency mental health services.

The incident stemmed from Susan Khoury’s activism over a dispute between the residents who neighbored Glades Middle School in south Miami-Dade’s Sunset neighborhood and the patrons of the Glades Baseball and Softball League.

For years, the youth baseball players used the fields at the school near Kendall. Since there wasn’t enough parking, the residents complained about drivers’ illegal parking. Khoury, a resident, decided to gather evidence.

In 2019, Khoury told Local 10 News that she had been documenting the problem with photos and videos. Some drivers were blocking driveways and lawns. Some were leaving trash behind and refusing to move their cars.

Khoury, a former federal law enforcement officer, also captured heated confrontations on video. In 2015, the mother of a youth baseball league player who did not want Khoury to film her called the police. Officer Gregory Williams responded.

“Officer Williams was called by a concerned neighbor to the scene after reports of Ms. Khoury acting irrationally and in a confrontational manner,” Attorney Blake Sando, who was representing Williams, said in a statement.

Khoury’s video shows Williams walking toward her and shouting, “Why are you filming?”

Khoury said Williams, a member of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department, didn’t listen to her answer.

“Instead of talking to me, he tried to grab my phone and then took my arm, swung it behind me dislocating my elbow.”

Video shows Williams, along with an off-duty Homestead officer who was attending the baseball game, taking Khoury down to the ground. She said she was never given a reason for the detention.

The video was part of the evidence in a federal lawsuit against Williams. A federal jury rejected Williams’s claim to qualified immunity, which protects officers from lawsuits.

“I think officers should understand that people have rights,” Khoury said.

State law allows doctors, mental health professionals, judges, and law enforcement to commit a person to a mental health treatment center for up to 72 hours if they present a danger to others or to themselves.

“Miss Khoury was not a threat to anyone, she was not doing anything wrong. She was exercising her right to record in public,” said Attorney Hilton Napoleon II, who represents Khoury.

In March, a jury found that Williams did not have probable cause to commit Khoury involuntarily to a mental institution, nor was there a reasonable basis to believe she would cause serious harm to herself or others.

“It was so nice to hear from a jury of your peers to say, ‘Yeah, she was wronged,” Khoury said.

After her experience with the Baker Act, Khoury continued her effort to protect the neighborhood’s quality of life. In 2018, someone else called the police. Officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department responded and arrested Khoury accusing her of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Prosecutors dropped the case.

Khoury also disputed that officer’s actions and in 2021 Miami-Dade County attorneys reached a settlement agreement with Khoury for $45,000. The officers involved issued an apology.

Khoury and her attorney hope the lawsuits will help to set an example. Khoury said she wanted police officers to be held accountable for their actions, so that wouldn’t happen to someone else.

“When you fight cases endlessly, and you try to pretend like someone is crazy, even though the video shows that she’s not, that’s not what our government is supposed to be doing,” Napoleon said. “That’s not what society wants.”

Khoury said she had clearances with the federal government that she will never get back because she has that on her record.

“It stays with you for life,” Khoury said. “It’s not like an arrest where you can expunge it.”

According to the Miami-Dade Schools Police, Williams remains employed with the department. The Miami-Dade School Board was not named in this lawsuit and is not liable for any fees against Williams.

Sando said William will be pursuing all available post-trial relief and will appeal the verdict. Miami-Dade County Public Schools declined to comment for this story citing pending litigation.

Read Sando’s statement:

Officer Williams is a decorated U.S. Army veteran and a proud police officer. Every day, police officers are asked to make judgment calls as part of their law enforcement service to our community. In this case, Officer Williams was called by a concerned neighbor to the scene after reports of Ms. Khoury acting irrationally and in a confrontational manner. Officer Williams had no prior knowledge of Ms. Khoury or any of the other witnesses he encountered on the night of the incident … In this case, Officer Williams stands by his judgment and decision to involuntary commit Ms. Khoury for further evaluation based on the information presented to him that night … Officer Williams believes the verdict is excessive, particularly given that Ms. Khoury’s doctors testified that they have neither seen nor treated her in the past six years since 2015 from this incident and that she has no immediate plans to seek any additional medical treatment in the future. Officer Williams will be pursuing all available post-trial relief and appeal of this verdict.

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About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.