A rescue attempt for Terri Schiavo was indeed under way Thursday, as the state of Florida tried, but failed to remove the brain-injured woman from her hospice in order to reinsert her feeding tube, according to a published report.
The Miami Herald says a team of Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents was on its way to seize the woman, but “stopped short” when told that local police officers would enforce a judge’s order against removing her.
“For a brief period, local police, who have officers around the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called a showdown,” the Herald reports.
The agents and the Department of Children and Families eventually backed down, concerned about a confrontation in front of the hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla.
“We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in,” a source with the local police told the Herald.
“The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene,” said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. “When the sheriff’s department, and our department, told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off.”
Those involved in the test of wills said they believed the situation could have led to a constitutional crisis, as well as a confrontation between dueling police agencies.
“There were two sets of law enforcement officers facing off, waiting for the other to blink,” said one official. In jest, one official said local police discussed “whether we had enough officers to hold off the National Guard.”
“It was kind of a showdown on the part of the locals and the state police,” the official said. “It was not too long after that Jeb Bush was on TV saying that, evidently, he doesn’t have as much authority as people think.”
State officials strongly denied any such “High Noon” scenario took place.
A DCF spokeswoman said her agency “directed no such action,” while Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush told the paper: “There was no showdown. We were ready to go. We didn’t want to break the law. There was a process in place and we were following the process. The judge had an order and we were following the order.”
On Wednesday of this week, Bush held a news conference to say DCF was considering the extraordinary measure.
He said new information had come to light warranting intervention, including a review of Terri Schiavo’s condition by neurologist Dr. William Cheshire, who claims she may have been misdiagnosed. Cheshire believes Schiavo to be in a “minimally conscious state,” not a “persistent vegetative state” as courts have determined.
“It is imperative that she be stabilized so the DCF team can fulfill their statute to review the facts surrounding the case,” Bush said.
Florida Circuit Judge George Greer, who ordered the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, signed an order Wednesday afternoon prohibiting the department from “taking possession of Theresa Marie Schiavo or removing her” from the hospice. He also directed “each and every and singular sheriff of the state of Florida” to enforce his order.
DCF lawyers appealed early Thursday, thus triggering an automatic freeze on Greer’s order. But when the judge learned of the situation, he canceled the automatic stay within three hours of its filing.
George Felos, the attorney for Terri’s husband, Michael, told the paper he doesn’t think DCF officials knew of the window of opportunity they had created until well after they filed their appeal.
“Frankly, I don’t believe when they filed their notice of appeal they realized that that gave them an automatic stay,” Felos said. “When we filed our motion to vacate the automatic stay … they realized they had a short window of opportunity and they wanted to extend that as long as they could.
“I believe that as soon as DCF knew they had an opportunity they were mobilizing to take advantage of it, without a doubt.”
Gov. Bush later backed down from his earlier position suggesting a rescue.
“We never said that unilaterally we would do something that’s against the court,” he said. “I’ve been asked to do it by a lot of people – a lot of the advice I’m getting over the Internet and over television and the like. I know that there were lots of rumors of things that aren’t accurate. I have a duty to uphold the law and I have been very consistent about that. It seemed like a big story that never was confirmed because it wasn’t true. If we had that ability to do it, if there wasn’t an injunction, we would do it right now. We would stabilize her by giving her hydration. We couldn’t put a feeding tube in. There was already a court order in place. The opportunity we had was appealing his decision.”
For background on the 15-year saga, read “The whole Terri
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Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler
Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of
Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.