Parents Against Psych Abuse
February 23, 2015
Parents visiting the Carter Psychology Center (CPC)'s web site are offered a rosy glimpse at the range of family court-related services the center provides, from parenting coordination to court-ordered psychological evaluations to child custody evaluations, now referred to as parenting plan evaluations. Reminiscent of pharmaceutical ads on television depicting favorable outcomes for prescription drugs set against idyllic backdrops, the CPC promises that their professional guidance in parenting and custody matters will “help achieve optimal parent-child relationships that allow children to be nurtured and thrive,” “help individuals reach their fullest potential,” and “help families achieve a stabilized environment.” Unlike pharmaceutical ads that must at least warn of potential side effects, there is no mention of the potential side effects of CPC's services, e.g. emotional and financial stress resulting from a nine-month long child custody evaluation, one or both parents being dissatisfied with the center's recommendations to the court, etc.
Take for instance the case of mother K.K. and father G.P., who Judge Becky Titus of Sarasota County ordered to undergo a child custody evaluation performed by CPC. An administrative complaint filed by the Department of Health (DoH) against psychologist Dr. Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. relating to the case indicates that the CPC commenced a child custody evaluation on May 1st and did not produce a report to the court until February 3rd of the following year. The DoH further alleged N.B., Psy.D. participated in the evaluations of K.K. and G.P., and the subsequent data assessments and report writing. According to the DoH complaint, N.B., Psy.D. was represented as a Licensed Psychologist along side Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. to parents, attorneys, a psychologist and medical doctor on authorization forms and in correspondence.
At the time of the child custody evaluation, according to the DoH complaint, N.B., Psy.D. was not licensed to practice psychology in Florida, did not possess a provisional license to practice psychology in Florida, had never even applied for a provisional license to practice psychology in Florida, and did not possess a limited license to practice psychology in Florida. Sarasota County court records indicate that Nancy Baird, Psy.D. was subpoenaed as part of the custody case. According to the DoH compaint, N.B., Psy.D. violated Florida Statute 490.012(1)(c) by holding herself out as a psychologist without a valid, active license to practice psychology in Florida.
The DoH also alleged that by employing and supervising N.B., Psy.D. at Carter Psychology Center, Dr. Debra K. Carter maintained a professional association with N.B. despite knowing or having reason to believe that she was not licensed to practice psychology in Florida, constituting grounds for disciplinary action under Florida Statute 490.009(1)(f). The DoH further alleged that Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. did not send a letter to the Board of Psychology agreeing to supervise N.B. pursuant to Rule 64B-19.11.01(2) of the Florida Administrative Code.
In its Final Order, the Board of Psychology fined Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. $1,000, and ordered Dr. Carter to reimburse $3,309.34 in costs associated with the investigation, prosecution and preparation of the matter. The Board also required Dr. Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. to complete twelve hours of continuing education in the areas of laws, rules and ethics pertaining to supervision.
As for the rosy promises on CPC's web site of parental harmony and children thriving as a result of the center's professional recommendations, the court entered a dissolution of marriage of K.K. and G.P. on March 17th, and a supplemental petition for modification was served on November 10th of the same year, scarcely eight months later. So much for empty promises.
Moreover, the mind-numbing number of mental health professionals and social workers subpoenaed in this family's case seriously calls into question exactly who is benefiting from such extensive, often court-ordered mental health intervention, if not the family who found themselves in court – again. The following mental health professionals and social workers were subpoenaed in this family's case: Dr. Debra Carter, Nancy Baird, Psy.D., Dr. Scott Permesly, Dr. Roxanne Permesly, Mary G. Davenport, Ph.D., John E. Keiffer, M.D., Ruth Shapiro, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., and Steve Steiner, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. There is an order of discharge of parenting coordinator and two orders appointing parenting coordinator recorded on the case docket, suggesting that one or both of the parents was dissatisfied with the professional services of one of the parenting coordinators.
No inference can or should be drawn that any of the aforementioned mental health professionals or social workers, other than Dr. Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. or N.B., Psy.D., were ever associated with Carter Psychology Center, the DoH administrative complaint, or the Board of Psychology's Final Order against Dr. Carter. That said, a license verification of the other aforementioned mental health professionals and social workers on the Medical Quality Assurance (MQA) web site reveals that the DoH filed an unrelated administrative complaint against Dr. Roxanne Permesly, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. In the DoH complaint, it was alleged that Dr. Permesly signed a license renewal affirmation stating that she met all of the license renewal requirements. According to the complaint, Dr. Permesly was selected randomly for an audit by the Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling, and Dr. Permesly was not able to provide proof that she had completed the continuing education requirements for license renewal. In its Final Order, the Board indicated that Dr. Permesly admitted the allegations contained in the administrative complaint, and she was fined $500.
What does it say about the family courts relying on expert testimony to determine child custody and visitation (now referred to as time-sharing), and parental responsibility when three out of a staggering nine mental health professionals and social workers subpoenaed in one family's case – or fully one-third – have allegedly violated professional ethics?
Ironically, the National Cooperative Parenting Center (NCPC), co-founded by psychologist Debra Carter, links to her ethics advice to other parenting coordinators from its web site. Not surprisingly, Dr. Carter did not disclose her own professional disciplinary record when doling out professional ethics guidance to others.
Perhaps parents should derive comfort from the fact that Dr. Carter received an award from the American Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). Other AFCC notables include current Director B. Kerry Brown, L.C.S.W., disciplined by the Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling for conducting a child custody evaluation of psychotherapy clients; and former award recipient Dr. Kathryn Kuehnle, Ph.D., who settled a 14-year-long wrongful death and negligence lawsuit last year relating to the death of six-year old Mathew Rotell, for whom she was providing professional services as a psychologist.
Have you had an experience with psychologist Debra K. Carter, Ph.D. that you would like to share?
October 19, 2013
Late in the evening of May 15, 2013, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to the residence of psychologist James R. Flens at 4949 Willow Ridge Terrace in an affluent Valrico golf community. Dr. Flens had reportedly punched a suspected prostitute in the head on his property, knocking her down on the concrete where she struck her head.
What was a suspected sex worker doing at the doctor’s upscale place of residence? What led this shrink to punch a so-called “dancer” in the head, knocking her down? To gain a deeper understanding of Dr. Flens’ behavior, one must delve into the troubled history of this psychologist appointed by Hillsborough Family Courts to work with children.
It was Saturday night at a local pizza parlor. Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” was dominating the airwaves that weekend. And a certain big shot was about to dominate an unwitting rival, who would suffer a beating outside of the popular hangout.
According to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office incident report, David Walker and Leonard Gonzales told authorities they were approached by a half dozen or so white males, one of whom asked if they were looking for a fight. David replied no, he and his friend Leonard were not looking for a fight.
“Don’t talk about it, go ahead and hit him,” David recalled a short and stocky fellow with dirty blonde hair saying before stepping out of the crowd to strike him. He recollected the stocky male hitting his friend Leonard as well; then dazed, David could not remember much after that except being treated at the hospital.
The alleged assailant and his companions reportedly fled the scene, while Leonard drove his bloodied friend to the Brandon Community Hospital Emergency Room. According to investigators, David had sustained a broken nose, lacerations to his face requiring stitches to close, bruises, and abrasions.
With nothing more to go on than Leonard’s description of a car and a tip from David as to the group’s possible whereabouts, authorities managed to track down the crew by Friday. Under the glare of law enforcement, two of the posse members reportedly rolled over on the suspect, identified as James “Jay” Raymond Flens. They directed investigators to the home where his orange Honda was parked outside, at which point Jay Flens was reportedly taken into custody and transported to the Sheriff's Operations Center.
Even when taken at his own word, Jay Flens' account of the incident paints a picture of a hostile group, some of whom had reportedly been drinking, bullying the two men who were outnumbered, trying to goad them into a fight, and of Jay Flens ultimately being the aggressor who threw and landed the first blow.
In a signed statement given after being read his rights, Jay Flens stated to investigators, “I was at the J. Burns parking lot when some friends said that a couple of guys had started something with them; what I don't know. I had had a difficult day at work and was tired. Several attempts were made to start a fight between the 2 guys and some other guys. I know that the other guys I was with were drinking, I wasn't. Then words were exchanged and someone pushed one of the two guys. More words were exchanged and I got feed [sic] up and hit one with a Robinson jacket and felt a fist go by my head and hit the other one. We continued to fight until he was on the ground, then I stopped.”
Not leaving much, if any, room for doubt as to who the aggressor was, even the reported eye witness statements of Jay Flens' alleged companions that night matched David and Leonard's version of the incident, with one alleged comrade of Jay Flens reportedly telling authorities that “the suspect came from behind him and hit the victim with his left hand and immediately turned upon the victim's friend and hit him with his right hand,” and another reportedly confirming that “the suspect came from behind them and hit both the victim and his friend.”
One of the witnesses who admitted to being with Jay Flens that night reported after being hit by Jay Flens, Mr. Walker swung at Jay Flens, and then Jay Flens kicked Mr. Walker in the head. According to investigators, the witness recounted that “at this time the suspect came from behind him and hit the victim with his left hand and immediately turned upon the victim's friend and hit him with his right hand. Stated the victim swung at the suspect and the suspect then kicked the victim in the head. Stated that the fight continued down the alleyway near J. Burns Pizza and that after the fight was over he saw Jay, the suspect, come out of the alley followed a few minutes later by the victim who was bleeding.”
There is no record in the incident report that during the interview Jay Flens either admitted or denied kicking Mr. Walker in the head, as had been reported by the witness who Jay Flens identified as his friend. Jay Flens also allegedly told investigators that he had no idea he had caused any serious injury to the victim, a claim conflicting with both the witness statement that it took a few minutes after the fight for Mr. Walker to emerge from the alley bleeding, and with the extent of the alleged victim's injuries as reported by law enforcement.
According to the Criminal Report Affidavit, “The victim was assaulted by the defendant who used his hands and feet to cause great bodily harm and possible permanent disfigurement by breaking the victim’s nose and causing the victim to require stitches to close cuts to his face.”
Records indicate James R. Flens was arrested and charged with Aggravated Battery under Florida Statute 784.021, and bond was set at $1,052. Assistant State Attorney Adalberto Tosca subsequently filed formal charges in State of Florida v. James Raymond Flens, accusing him of two counts of Battery under Florida Statute 784.03(1)(a), one count each for striking Mr. Walker and Mr. Gonzales respectively. According to an official archive relating to the case, the disposition of the charges against Jay Flens was differed prosecution with eighteen months probation.
As stated in James R. Flens’ curriculum vitae, he was a psychology major at Hillsborough Community College in an Associate of Arts program in 1979, the timeframe coinciding with the March 24, 1979 violent incident.
On April 14, 1988, a complaint was filed against James R. Flens alleging that he violated Florida Statute 490.012 “by holding himself out as a Psychologist without holding a valid active license.” On December 30, 1988, the Florida Department of Professional Regulation sent James R. Flens a Letter of Guidance, stating, “Based upon a thorough investigation of the complaint filed against you on April 14, 1988, the Department of Professional Regulation has determined that probable cause exists to believe that you violated Section 490.012 of the Florida Statutes.” On January 3, 1989, the Department stated in its Closing Order that a Department consultant described James R. Flens’ actions as “misleading to the public and suggests he is a licensed Psychologist.”
James R. Flens’ application for licensure as a psychologist in the State of Florida was signed and dated on December 28, 1988, eight and a half months after the complaint was filed against him, and just two days prior to the Florida Department of Professional Regulation sending him a Letter of Guidance concerning their finding of probable cause that he violated Florida Statute 490.012.
A copy of his licensure application obtained from the Florida Department of Health Division of Medical Quality Assurance shows that James R. Flens did not answer the following questions about his history on the application:
Despite not answering questions about mental health and substance abuse on his application, James R. Flens signed an affidavit stating, “I have carefully read the questions in the foregoing application and have answered them completely without reservations of any kind and I declare under penalty of perjury that my answers and all statements made by me are true and correct. Should I furnish any false information in this application, I hereby agree that such act shall constitute cause for the denial, suspension, or revocation of any license to practice in the State of Florida the profession for which I am applying.”
Would the licensing board go to the trouble of including questions about mental health and substance abuse history on the application form if the answers to those specific questions were unimportant? If truthful, correct, complete and unreserved answers to those questions were unimportant, would the licensing board require applicants to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury affirming that the applicant had carefully read the questions and answered them completely, truthfully, correctly, and without reservations? What purpose do the questions about mental health and substance abuse history on the licensure application serve? Could it be to protect the public?
Whatever the case may be, some two and a half years later on June 23, 1991, the Board of Psychological Examiners, which the Board of Psychology was formerly known as, enacted Florida Administrative Code 64B19-11.006, which states, “The Board will not review incomplete applications…” Unfortunately, the administrative rule came too late to have any effect on James R. Flens' application.
In spite of having been arrested and charged with two counts of battery, and reportedly receiving eighteen months probation for the alleged offenses; despite the state professional regulatory agency’s finding of probable cause that he violated the statute prohibiting holding oneself out as a psychologist without a valid, active license; and even though questions about mental health and substance abuse were left unanswered on his license application; the Board of Psychological Examiners granted Dr. Flens a license to practice psychology in Florida on April 14, 1989.
Not even six months had passed after his licensure as a psychologist before the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office responded to another report of battery involving Dr. Flens. On October 6, 1989, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to a reported disturbance at the office of Dr. James R. Flens. John Terrence Russell, an electrician by trade, reported to law enforcement that he had gone to Dr. Flens’ office to collect money owed to him, and that Dr. Flens had pushed him in the shoulder. Dr. Flens alleged that Mr. Russell threatened to harm him with a screwdriver and to remove light switches if he did not pay up, which Dr. Flens said he took as a threat to his life. The investigator on the scene observed light sockets taken apart, but did not observe any marks on either man. Both men denied the other's allegations, and both men signed waivers of prosecution.
What does it say about Dr. Flens as a psychologist that his office, a place that is supposed to be a safe refuge where people can go to get help, allegedly became the scene of a heated confrontation between the doctor and his service provider? In light of what with the benefit of hindsight now appear to have been overlooked red flags prior to his licensure, is it any surprise that problems would persist after Dr. Flens obtained his license to practice psychology?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, allegations of violence and not paying debts would continue to dog James R. Flens, becoming recurring themes in his life.
On August 26, 1990, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to a report of spousal battery at the home of Dr. James R. Flens. According to the incident report, the responding deputy observed that Dr. Flens’ wife had a swollen left cheek, a lacerated lower lip, and a swollen right elbow. Dr. Flens’ wife reported to law enforcement that her husband got angry, struck her six times in the face, threw her to the ground and held her down, and that she managed to escape into the bedroom. Dr. Flens’ wife reported at that point that Dr. Flens followed her into the bedroom and that Dr. Flens took out a .25 caliber firearm from the dresser, forced it into her hand and forced her to fire the weapon into the bedroom wall, threatening, “If you call the Police, I’ll tell them you tried to kill me.” Dr. Flens’ wife reported that she then ran from the house, and that Dr. Flens tackled her outside and struck her again before she managed to get away.
Dr. Flens' wife told the investigator she did not want to prosecute her husband, signing a waiver of prosecution. She stated that she wanted to just document the incident. Dr. Flens does not appear to have been interviewed as part of the investigation, so there is no record in the incident report of him denying the allegations made by his wife.
On September 12, 1990, Dr. Flens’ wife filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order Without Notice in Hillsborough Family Court. The summons was finally returned served on James R. Flens some twenty-four days later on October 5, 1990. On the same day he was served, the Court granted the Temporary Injunction requested by Dr. Flens’ wife. On November 2, 1990, Judge Thomas Barber, after a hearing, ordered the Temporary Restraining Order previously entered to “remain in full force and effect.”
Even though a Hillsborough Family Court granted an injunction to his wife after a hearing, Hillsborough Family Courts have subsequently appointed Dr. James R. Flens to work with women and children as a child custody evaluator. Ironically, Dr. Flens even goes so far as to represent himself as an expert in the area of “intimate partner violence” on his web site.
On July 4, 1991, Dr. James R. Flens was charged with Careless Operation. Not unlike many revelers celebrating Independence Day, Dr. Flens had taken to the water at the helm of a vessel, perhaps the seventeen-foot Sea Ray boat to which he was awarded the title in his divorce. Regardless of the underlying cause of his carelessness, Florida Statute 327.33 defines reckless or careless operation as involving “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger, life or limb, or damage the property of, or injure any person.” Hillsborough County Court records indicate Dr. James R. Flens pled nolo contendere to the misdemeanor charge on July 24, 1991, and adjudication was withheld.
On August 2, 2007, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien in the amount of $145,547.97 against James R. Flens with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Hillsborough County, for the tax period ending December 31, 2001. On January 29, 2008, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien in the amount of $196,524.20 against James R. Flens, for the tax years 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. On July 12, 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien in the amount of $47,047.28 against James R. Flens, for the tax period ending December 31, 2008. On September 19, 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien in the amount of $121,362.15 against James R. Flens, for the tax period ending December 31, 2009. On November 15, 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien in the amount of $18,740.65 against James R. Flens, for the tax period ending December 31, 2010. On March 28, 2013, the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Hillsborough County recorded a release of lien corresponding to the IRS lien dated August 2, 2007, for the 2001 tax year. There are no releases recorded for the other four IRS liens, which appear to be outstanding.
On April 21, 2008, a jury in the Civil Division of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court in and for Hillsborough County reached a verdict finding that Dr. James R. Flens wrongfully asserted dominion over a child custody evaluation fee retainer balance and that he obtained or used same with a felonious intent to steal. Michael J. McCormack had filed a lawsuit against Dr. Flens after settling a custody dispute with his ex-wife, alleging that Dr. Flens committed Conversion and Civil Theft by refusing to return a $4,250 child custody evaluation fee retainer balance despite multiple requests to do so. On February 5, 2010, in McCormack v. Flens, 27 So. 3d 179 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010), the Florida Second District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the trial court judge’s directed verdict dismissing the Civil Theft count against Dr. Flens contrary to the jury’s verdict, with instructions to reinstate the jury’s verdict as to the Civil Theft count. The Appeals Court opined, “Under these facts, a jury could conclude that Dr. Flens was liable for civil theft because he kept the retainer balance after acknowledging that the money belonged to Mr. McCormack,” specifically citing in their decision the definition of theft in Florida's criminal code, Section 812.014 of the Florida Statutes. On May 24, 2010, Hillsborough Judge James Arnold entered an Amended Final Judgment against Dr. Flens, awarding Mr. McCormack triple damages due to the Civil Theft verdict, and ordering Dr. Flens to pay Mr. McCormack $19,144.13.
Considering James R. Flens’ previous association with multiple reports of alleged violence, it should come as no surprise that Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputies were recently summoned yet again to his home to investigate another report of battery, this time when he punched a suspected prostitute in the head on his property, reportedly knocking her down on the concrete where she struck her head.
Dr. James R. Flens’ luxurious pool home sits adjacent to the lush green on Hole Three of the private golf course at River Hills Country Club. While Hole Three is a Par Four, it only took Dr. Flens one swing to drop a suspected hooker to the ground on his property adjoining the north side of the green. We may never know just how many strokes, if any, were played around Hole Three by the woman Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office reportedly suspects to be a prostitute, and whose occupation is listed as “Dancer” on the incident report.
What we do know is that, in a signed statement on May 15, 2013, Dr. James R. Flens stated, “I was afraid she would harm me so I defended myself by hitting her once. I believe it was to the head or upper body. She fell back.” An investigator wrote that Dr. Flens “struck [her] in the face once with a closed fist. [She] fell backwards, and the back of her head struck the concrete resulting in an abrasion with minor bleeding.” The investigator also wrote in the incident report, “I observed a bump on the back of her head and the blood that had dried up in her hair by the time I arrived.”
We also know that River Hills Country Club, which bills itself as “Brandon’s Premier Private Club” on its web site, is nestled in a gated community behind a manned security checkpoint with electric entry barriers. This begs the question as to how a non-resident could enter the gated neighborhood in the first place, driving past the sentry in the guardhouse and the bar gates. By invitation, perhaps? It also begs the question as to what a suspected prostitute was doing in the gated community, some twenty miles away from her listed residence. Playing golf? At nearly eleven o'clock in the evening?
As it turns out, the suspected prostitute refused to be interviewed by law enforcement as part of their investigation (which would not be surprising if her purpose in the neighborhood that night related to illegal services authorities suspect her of performing), and the battery investigation into Dr. Flens was closed as unfounded.
Are the foregoing incidents relating to this Court-appointed child custody evaluator warning signs? Should Dr. Flens be working with children, or families dealing with domestic violence? One thing is for sure, if Dr. James R. Flens' pattern continues or worsens, no one will be able to say they couldn’t see it coming.
Have you had an experience with psychologist James R. Flens, Psy.D. that you would like to share?