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Florida Bill Would Protect Developmentally Disabled During Police Interviews

Wes Kleinert's mother says the autistic man was taken to the Cheetah Gentleman's Club in Palm Beach and forced to get a lap dance against his will.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wes Kleinert's mother says the autistic man was taken to the Cheetah Gentleman's Club in Palm Beach and forced to get a lap dance against his will.
Credit Cheetah Palm Beach
The Florida Channel
Wes Kleinert's mother says the autistic man was taken to the Cheetah Gentleman's Club in Palm Beach and forced to get a lap dance against his will.

Florida could soon be the first state to require a mental-health expert to be present during police interviews of developmentally disabled suspects or victims.

That’s if lawmakers approve a bill called the Wes Kleinert Fair Interview Act.

Five years ago, Ellen Kleinert-Cohn’s autistic son Wes was being driven home by his coach in South Florida. On the way there, his coach made a pit stop at a strip club.

“It was called the Cheetah lounge. They were supposed to go out for a bite to eat,” she says. “We had a lot of faith in this person who went places with a lot of the kids.”

Kleinert-Cohn says the coach paid for Wes to get a lap dance, despite his protests and repeated requests to leave. He was in his mid-20s, but Kleinert-Cohn says her son is essentially a child with the mentality of 14-year-old. But that’s not the way he was treated when he tried to report what happened to law enforcement.

“We went to the police at that time, and they pretty much laughed it off because, I guess, he had autism they didn't get it,” she says. “They didn't really care, and this was 14 months after the incident, which occurred in January 2010.”

Kleinert-Cohn says if police had taken him seriously, charges for sexual abuse may have been brought. She and her husband eventually took their case to their local lawmakers, Rep. Bill Hager (R-Delray Beach) and Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate).

She says, “Our goal is to lessen the probability of this happening to people like Wes during the interview process. The people that are similarly situated to Wes with autism, mental disabilities, shouldn’t be taken advantage of like this."

If passed, the bill would mandate a mental-health expert be present during any interview of a developmentally disabled person, whether he's a suspect or a victim. If approved, a pilot program would first be set up in Broward County to test the proposal’s effectiveness. 

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Ryan Benk is a reporter for WJCT in Jacksonville. He came from Tallahassee, where he worked as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU. Originally from Miami, Florida, he graduated with a bachelor of arts in English literature from Florida State University. During his time in Tallahassee, Ryan also worked as a policy and research analyst for legislative-research firm LobbyTools before returning to public radio at WJCT.
Ryan Benk is originally from Miami, Florida and came to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University. He worked on Miami Dade College’s Arts and Literature Magazine- Miamibiance Magazine and has published poetry and a short film called “ The Writer.” He’s currently working as the Newsroom’s Researcher while finishing his Creative Writing Bachelor’s Degree at Florida State University. When he’s not tracking down news, Ryan likes watching films, writing fiction and poetry, and exploring Florida.