Recovery Unscripted Clementi

Featured Guest: Deputy Samantha Clementi, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

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Today, I’m excited to bring you our first viewpoint from the law enforcement side of the opioid crisis. Deputy Samantha Clementi serves with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in South Florida, where she’s made it her mission to build a bridge between the police force and the individuals dealing with addiction and recovery in her district. But with limited regulatory support and new, counterfeit sober homes popping up without warning, it can be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. She sat down with me at the Moments of Change conference to share how she works together with the state attorney’s office, code enforcement, trustworthy treatment providers and her community at large to protect her neighborhood and make sure that real recovery is available to everyone.

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Podcast Transcript: David Condos with Deputy Samantha Clementi, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos and today, I’m excited to bring you our first few point from the law enforcement side of the opioid crisis. Deputy Samantha Clementi serves with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in South Florida, where she’s made it her mission to build a bridge between the police force and the individuals dealing with addiction and recovery in her district.

With limited regulatory support and new counterfeit silver homes popping up without warning, it can be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. She sat down with me at the Moments of Change conference to share how she works together with the State Attorney’s office, code enforcement, trustworthy treatment providers, and her community at large to protect her neighborhood and make sure that real recovery is available to everyone. Now, here’s Deputy Clementi.

I’m here with Deputy Samantha Clementi. Thank you for being with us today.

Samantha Clementi: Thank you for having me.

David: First, let’s have you tell us a little bit about your own personal story and what drew you to the world of law enforcement?

Samantha: I was in the military for a couple of years. It just seemed like a natural progression. I started off working at a uniform store here in Florida. We were doing uniforms for a transport company that works for the sheriff’s office and the guy who works for the company kept coming in and going, “When do you get to work for me? When do you get to work for me?” And I’m like, “Ah, no no no no.”

About a year in, the deputies who had been working around they’re like, “You need to do this job, your temper made for it, you understand it, you’re great on the radio, you’re reading our reports, you’re filling out most of it anyway, you need to do this.” The opportunity came for sponsorship. Sheriff’s office sponsored me through the academy and well here I am.

David: Awesome. Like you said, you’re now serving in the sheriff’s office here in Palm Beach County. Could you describe your role there today?

Samantha: I’m still on road patrol. I’m road patrol in Lake Park, serving five years.

David: What does that mean exactly?

Samantha: Road patrol means they give me a call for service, I go out help the community, I go a little bit above and beyond just that Lake Park allows me to do that. It’s two and a half square miles, a very small community. I can actually get out of my car, walk up, knock on the door. “Hey, how are you today? Is there anything I could do?” If I have a call for service at a house and it seems like they need extra services or a little extra attention, I actually add them to a list. I go and check on them later on and say, “Hey, how are you doing? Do you need me just to sit and listen to you talk?” It gives me a lot more leeway to actually take time and spend time in the community.

David: What are some of the big challenges that you face here in your community related to substance use specifically?

Samantha: Because we’re such a small community, again, two and a half square miles, we had a large falling out with the real estate market that left a large void for folks to come here and start buying up houses and bring in sober homes. At the beginning of the year we had 44 sober homes. We have gotten that number down to 22.

David: And that’s in two and a half square miles?

Samantha: That’s in two and a half square miles. The reason why I got so active was just a little over two and a half years ago. In one day, I had three overdoses. I really started doing my homework, started investigating, started digging and that’s what I discovered that we had so many sober homes. Most of them were not regulated, most of them were not even close to being certified.

David: So, people were overdosing in the sober homes.

Samantha: I really started doing my due diligence. I started taking classes, I started understanding who’s doing the right thing and who’s doing the wrong thing. My lieutenant at the time said, “You want this to be your baby, you go right ahead.” I started working with the town and code enforcement trying to say, “Okay, do you realize what kind of a problem we have and this is becoming an epidemic?”

Earlier this summer, we had another call for service which was another overdose. It was the same house that we’d just been to five times. When fire rescue showed up, they’re like, “Well, good thing you didn’t call is five minutes earlier. I was like, “Why?” Another fire rescue just brought us in our camp. We just went through a month’s worth of Narcan in 14 days.

I’m again, working very diligently with my homes. I’m working very diligently with the treatment centers and that’s when I also started getting involved with the coalition, the substance abuse coalition in saying, “What can I do to help the treatment centers that want to do the right thing? What can we do as far as ethics and standards?” They’re trying to build an ethics and standards board to go back to the treatment centers and say, “Okay, these are not state regulated, but let’s get together and it’s nice that they’re asking for feedback from law enforcement to say, “Okay, this is good, this is iffy.”” It’s working together to make it better.

David: Yes. Who’s all part of that coalition.

Samantha: Service providers, DCF is there–

David: That’s department of?

Samantha: Department of children and family services. You also have Aronberg’s office that pops in from time to time, which is our state attorney. Then we take that coalition and also apply it to the task force, the Palm Beach County task force, that works to get rid of our bad players. I am telling you this is becoming a very nice well run machine and we have really taken out some out bad guys

David: Yes. This is really all just happening in the last few years or shorter than that?

Samantha: Last year. Last year, we have gotten some fantastic results. Just being able to go out to the community and know my good players and being able to pull my homeless in and say, “Hey, can I get this guy’s a scholarship? This guy has finally said that he wants to get clean and sober can. Can I get him some help?” Knowing that they’re going to a good place, knowing that I’m not sending someone somewhere that’s going to relapse-

David: And just get worse.

Samantha: -and get worse or die.

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David: One thing we were talking about before recording is how you work to normalize relations between law enforcement and the people in your community, especially the people who are in recovery and have a history in addiction. What are some of the ways that you do that practically to dispel myths about what police do and what their purpose is in the community? Also ease concerns among people who have had negative interactions because of their addiction?

Samantha: It’s really great. Again, working with my treatment centers there in Lake Park. They invite me in and asked me to speak with new clients. I have this motto that I always go by. It’s, “I’m here to help it, not to hurt.” If these guys get themselves into a jam where they’re starting to feel like they’re starting to slip again, they’re in Walmart, they are a little low on money, and they’re like, “I really want that shirt.” They find themselves taking the shirt and they get caught by loss prevention, loss prevention calls. I hear the call go out and I recognize the name or they call me up and say, “Hey, this guy’s at a sober home. You want to come over?” I come over and I’m like, “Hey, let’s just issue this guy notice to appear. There’s no need to take him to jail because this is going to derail him.”

I take him back to the house, we sit them down. We actually work through a program with him to make sure that he doesn’t use again and we see if we can’t get him to a safe place. I also try to get these guys to understand that, “I’m not the cop that arrested you. I’m not the cop that that beat you up.”

David: I imagine you walk in the room with your uniform and everybody kind of freezes up.

Samantha: It’s an instant of tension. I try to get them to understand that, “I’m not that person. Okay, try to see me as an individual, try and see me as a person who is here and is part of the team to help you in your road of recovery.” Because the last thing that I want to say is, “You want to slab? I’ve seen enough dead bodies to last me a lifetime, but I want to see you happy, I want to see you maintain your recovery.”

If there’s anything that I could do– I’ve given out my cell phone number. I don’t know how many people. My husband’s like, “Really another person is calling you at two o’clock in the morning?” I’m like, “It’s okay, they’ll leave me a message. I’ll get to it tomorrow.” I’m fine with that because I put myself out there in such a way that I want them to feel free and comfortable to call me.

I always try to give them a positive perspective as well. I find out their life story and I come to them and I’m like, “What can I do to help you today? I know you have a warrant, but I don’t care. The other guy could arrest you.” My stats are very, very low, but my chain of command is okay with it because they know what I’m doing.

David: That’s the thing is you’re doing more of a long-term strategy.

Samantha: That is my long-term strategy. I’m trying to keep folks from breaking into cars. I’m trying to keep people off the street from loitering. I have a very, very long term plan. It is a very good balancing act I think. I’m very happy with where I’m at. I sleep very well at night. Let’s put it that way. I sleep very well. [laughs]

David: Another aspect that we’re getting is how to break that cycle. Arrest, jail time, relapse and then also like you said preventing incarceration that would disrupt someone’s early recovery. What are some things that you’ve done here to disrupt that cycle and make sure that people get to a place where they can either get clean or stay clean instead of just going to jail?

Samantha: We have drug court but if you have someone who’s currently on treatment and they have a warrant, we as law enforcement do have the ability to go to the judge and say, “This person is in treatment, can we work something out?” These are warrants that are usually OR, which means they’re going to be released on their own recognizance for time served. Can their time serve be for treatment and 9 times out of 10 the judges like, “That’s fine as long as they complete their treatment. Keep me informed.” It’s really a win-win situation for the individual who’s in recovery.

David: Yes. As you mentioned you’re also involved with the Palm Beach County sober homes task force.

Samantha: Yes.

David: Could you describe I guess why that team was created and what the goal is there?

Samantha: When I spoke with Ted Paddick, that’s who I really deal with solely in that task force. He originally started dealing with that on the insurance fraud end. That’s how this task force really came into being. I was like, “Well, this is a bigger beast.” It just continued to evolve from there to patient brokering. Patient brokering is really the biggest issues that we have overall. It’s a form of human trafficking. That’s where we’ve really been able to shut folks down. Some people claim, “Well, I didn’t realize if that’s what I was doing.” Ignorance is bliss. If you’re making profit off of recommending one person to another and it’s $1000 ahead you’ve got to know that you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes just sending out a notice to a place that they are under investigation has been enough to shut the door.

David: As I was researching for this interview and you guys have really put a lot of people in mugshots for this. They see that and they’re like, “Okay, this is a serious thing, it’s not worth it.”

Samantha: It’s not worth it when you think the large lost. Last year we lost almost 700 people to death over those deaths.

David: In this county?

Samantha: In this county alone.

David: Wow.

Samantha: That’s just a death. That’s not overdoses. Overdoses were six digits. It’s hard and for the folks that have to make the death notifications, it’s not an easy task because I’ve been on that end. What we’ve done in the task force has been so important. That work is so important and any questions that you have, Justin Chapman’s there, Aronberg’s there, all you have to do is make a phone call and even as a …

David: Just to clarify Dave Aronberg is top stated attorney representing Palm Beach County and Justin Chapman is the assistant state attorney. This county has a population of nearly one and a half million people. The fact that this task force offers law enforcement officials a direct line to communicate with these state attorneys is a big deal. Here is Deputy Clementi with more.

Samantha: … and to know that those guys will return my phone call or return an email within minutes, if not an hour and answer any question that I have is just– I can’t explain that enough. The fact that they’re willing to take the time and say, “This deputy needs my attention for this task force question. Hey, can you look into this guy, can you pull his financials because I’m worried about we’re having a lot of people, a lot of traffic, we’ve had a lot of overdoses here. Can you have a look.” “Sure Sam, not a problem. Let me know if this needs further investigation.” It’s been a great response.

David: You’re saying it’s seriously all the way to the top.

Samantha: All the way to the top.

David: Coming up, how Deputy Clementi uses her community connections and her cop instincts to protect the neighborhood she serves from unethical sober homes. First, we’re going to take a quick break to introduce another piece of trivia from our ongoing segment called this week in recovery history. Today’s question highlights the 18th amendment to the US constitution, which introduced the prohibition era of the 20th century. Its ratification was made official on this very week in which of the following years; 1919, 1921 or 1923. Find out at the conclusion of the interview.

Like you mentioned the big thing in the news, the big problem going on here is the unethical patients brokering, stuff like that and then as you mentioned you have such a high concentration of treatment centers and sober homes in South Florida but then even in your little two and a half miles. You already said you had 44 at the beginning of the year.

Samantha: Yes.

David: How do you practically go about monitoring? When you have that many and then I’m sure they’re like, maybe not as much as they were a year ago but they can spring up and you not even be notified that they’re there. How do you keep on top of all that?

Samantha: I have such great resources and it’s because of I’m so active in my community. If a house springs up, I know about it within 24hours which is fantastic. I contribute that to being such a busy body in my neighborhoods.

David: Yes. If you’re out there being seen, making sure people know that you’re one someone whose there to cause them worry.

Samantha: Cause problems.

David: Yes.

Samantha: I am a resource for everybody. Good, better and different, I am 100% for that community. They know that they can come to me with an issue, you need something, go to Deputy Sam. I’ll make sure that something facilitates and happens for you. If you hear about something, let me know and let me investigate it and see if that’s really true or not. If there’s a sober house that pops up, go tell her because I’ll knock on the door. Please don’t give me hipper when I knock on the door.

That’s not the excuse, that’s not the way to get me to go away because I will walk in the house. I’ll look around and then I’ll bring court enforcement with me and we’ll around and we’ll take pictures and we’ll document everything that we see. I ask all the viable questions. We pull tax receipts, we pull all the staff from Palm Beach county, we get the information. We find out what’s going on. Believe or not, if folks are coming in and out the house, they’ll talk to me. “Hi sweety, how are you?

What are you doing here? Did you just move in the neighborhood. Well, what do you need to know about Lake Park? Where can I point you in the direction? What can I do to help you?” They’re just like, “This is a sober home.” “Really. How are you doing in your sobriety? Is everything okay?” “Well, I got just started using the other day.” People become an open book. I understand that, but I want to help them. I want to make sure that they are in a safe environment and if they’re not in a safe environment, I’m going to pull them out of that environment. I’m going to put them somewhere safe.

David: You described a little bit of this but how do you tell when you’re looking at a program or a sober home, how do you tell if something is not right here?

Samantha: It has a lot to do with instinct. A cop’s instinct I will trust it every single day because that what keeps me out of trouble, that what tells you to back out of a house if it doesn’t feel right. It also has to do with the clientele. If the clientele are active, if the clientele are happy, if the house is clean. Believe it or not, a clean house is a sober house. If the house is unkempt from the exterior, if the house is unkempt from the interior, if there’s trash laying around.

David: Yes, that’s a sign of okay well, they couldn’t deal with that so they probably couldn’t deal with some of the other important things.

Samantha: They can’t deal with anything. We have a lot of community service. One of the main profits of community service is broken windows theory. If you have one broken window, you’re going to have multiple broken windows. In a neighborhood, you have to take care of the first broken window to prevent more broken windows. That’s how you keep a neighborhood well.

I heard that and it stuck with me. It’s the same philosophy that I carry when I look at a sober home. If the sober home is well maintained and well kept, that I know I can walk up, knock on the door and they’re like, “Hey, how are you doing? Come on in, look inside, let’s talk, how’s everybody doing. Everybody wants to come in and have a conversation.” It’s when people screw you away and don’t want to talk, that’s what sends up that little, I need to investigate further. Telltale signs are blaring obvious of the bad ones.

David: Yes. Then I guess what are the next steps in that situation where you say, “We’ve got to investigate this further.” or “Look into what’s going on here.” What’s the next steps?

Samantha: Next steps, I usually bring in code enforcement. Code enforcement works very well. They’ll start seeing if they even have the proper documentation with the town to even be there to have multiple people living in the dwelling. Do they even have an array which is a residential occupancy to operate as a sober home in the town of Lake Park. If they don’t, then they have to go before the town of Lake Park magistrate and we can either accept or deny. There’s this steps that folks have to take or at least make the effort to start taking in order to be approved to be a sober home within Lake Park. You can tell the ones that are fly by night because they won’t take those steps at all.

They won’t attempt anything. Then suddenly when you say okay what you need to do A, B, C, and D, according to code enforcement. Well, we get to the meeting. They’re not there. I go and knock on the door there’s a notice on the door. Knock on the door, knock on the door. Nobody’s there. They’re all gone. Again, that was another fly by night. I’ve gotten rid of a couple that way. One was a really bad flophouse. They just kept having overdose over odors, literally in the front yard. This lasted for about two months and it was putting pressure on the person who owned the home because these folks were renting.

David: They were renting for a sober home?

Samantha: They were renting for a sober home.

David: Oh my goodness.

Samantha: Yes. Folks were coming from worst to go there to party from another sober home because they heard that this was a great place to party. I don’t know how word spread. I went to the owner and I said myself in the town of Lake Park, we’ll put a lien on your property. We will have your property within a month. If you don’t cut this out you are not cut out to be a sober home operator. If you don’t shut this down, we’re going to own your home with liens. The lien started five thousand a week. What do you want to do? They were out. He went, change the locks, evicted everybody, they’re all done. Of course, they didn’t have proper documentation for folks to live in sober living. They had nothing. It was just a sad situation.

David: As you mentioned they’re having all of these regulations is helpful for you because then you have something to say like okay well it’s not just me saying okay get out of here. Can you meet this or not and then and then we’ll deal with it. I know the Florida legislature has done a lot to help you recently. I know there’s been the HB 807, it’s a big talk right now here at the conference. I guess could you give us a quick description of some of the new stuff that’s been happening on the legislative side and how that helps you?

Samantha: Well it’s really helped the task force. The task force it really gave them even more teeth when it comes to being able to go after the operator itself. It’s really put a lot of fear into those who have been on the skirting edge. That’s why it went from 44 houses to 22 because suddenly when that legislation came down, I knew a lot of guys who were caught up on that edge and when that legislation came down I was like, by the way you did see that that passed. They closed their doors the next day. It really put them on notice that things will not be tolerated anymore. It was a beautiful piece. We were very, very happy that it came through. Do we need more? We always need more. We always want more. I’m not going to lie. We’re greedy.

David: What are some other things that the government could do or that the agencies could do to help you in that way?

Samantha: I don’t know where to start. I really don’t. I guess FARR is just it’s not enough because let’s face it …

David: One quick note of context here. FARR is an acronym for the Florida association of recovery residences. Founded in 2011, FARR evaluates and monitors residential recovery services like sober homes and holds them to a code of ethics. While the information and training that FARR provides is a great asset to the Florida community. This certification is voluntary, so sober homes can’t be compelled to join the association or demonstrate their compliance. Here’s Deputy Clementi.

Samantha: … a band-aide at this point, we need something that really– again that’s where the coalition comes in, really sets ethics and standards as to things that you have to make in order to be an operator and if you don’t meet these types of things, then you should not be an operator. Again, my opinion but working with the coalition, I think that these things are very important. I know that at the last task force meeting that we had Aronberg said we need to have a central hub that we can pull from and say, “Okay, these are all of our good players and these are where we can get all of our scholarships from.”

Well just because they’re a good player today, doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be bought and sold tomorrow. That’s where some of the problems come in. That’s where due diligence on officers like myself come into play. We had a wonderful resource in Lake park that was an institution for over 20 years. They were bought and sold, moved and now I feel like I can’t trust them because of who bought them.

They’ve become a little the on the shady side and not quite so willing to open their door. Well, if I can’t come in today and you’re telling your clients, don’t talk right now that makes me hesitant because– [crosstalk] there are still patients, they are the same patients that I talked to a week ago when it was the other company and to see them go down this avenue is really a hard pill to swallow. Ethics and standards. I would like to see that become part of legislation.

David: That an official like how you’ve had with the recent legislation has anything official about ethics and standards that you can fall back on and say okay this is real. You can go to jail. There’s actual statute here.

Samantha: I would love that. It’s hard to say, this is how you will, shall and can operate. I understand that. If I had it in a perfect world, that’s the way it would be. I continue to push and I will continue to do my due diligence on my end to see what I can do to keep things on an even keel and say okay how are you doing today. Let’s see how you do tomorrow.

David: Everyone who serves in this field has their own personal reasons for wanting to further this cause of recovery and fight this fight. To close could you sum up why helping to protect patients and help people find recovery is important to you.

Samantha: Well first of all I’m not ashamed to say it I had a brother that was addicted to crack cocaine. That was many, many years ago. I was still a teenager at the time and we Marchman Act’d him and this was up in the Carolinas and the Marchman Act had teeth.

David: What does that mean exactly.

Samantha: My father, not only Marchman Act’d him, which was forced recovery for him but also basically took ownership over my brother. This is the older brother too. I’m the baby of the family but still to this day he gets an allowance and he gets– he has multiple sclerosis, so his medication is doled out to him. Everything is still very monitored for him because you never know, we are on the side of caution to this day and that was over 20 years ago.

David: The addiction is always there.

Samantha: Addiction is always addiction. It breaks my father’s heart in a lot of ways, but my father is a realist. To watch that has happened it made me think but he’s still a human. To demoralize someone for past transgressions, I have a problem with that and I want these clients, I want these young people, I want everyone who is in recovery to understand I have true empathy for their plight and that I understand it.

I’m not just coming at you from a law enforcement side. I come at it because I have a family member who still struggles. If there’s ever anything that I could do I’ll try. Just give me the opportunity. If I can’t, then I’ll find someone who can. Again I have resources. Let me use my resources. That’s the beauty of my job. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I try to remain positive because I see so much negativity in my job.

It gives me hope, it gives me pleasure, it gives me inspiration to be positive in such a negative time. Especially when it comes to recovery. Why not be a positive influence in their negative time. Everybody that I’ve helped to get scholarships and get into that recovery process they keep telling me I couldn’t not have done it without you men all I did is open the door. You did all the work, I have done nothing, I just open a door for you. I just keep telling them that over and over and over again.

David: Yes, you could use a lot of positivity here right now.

Samantha: Always.

David: Deputy, thank you so much for your time today.

Samantha: Well, thank you again for having me.

David: Thanks to Deputy Clementi for taking the time to join us. Thank you for sticking around to the end of this episode for another installment of our trivia segment, this week in recovery history. Today’s question focused on the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was certified by Secretary of State, Frank Polk, on January 29th, 1919. This amendment officially began the prohibition era by making it illegal to produce, transport or sell alcoholic beverages. The amendments passing was the culmination of decades of lobbying from the temperance movement who championed the idea that alcohol was a moral blight on our nation’s character.

Even with that groundswell support, the amendments path to ratification was a bumpy one. After the resolution was slowly ratified by enough states over a year-long period, President Woodrow Wilson still retorted when he arrived on his desk. This setback, however, was only temporary as Congress overrode the veto the following day. Once the amendment went into effect, there was an initial drop in the number of hospitalizations for alcoholism and related health issues, but is bootlegging or illegally smuggling alcohol into ports and across borders became more widespread.

Prohibition proved ineffective. That’s the 18th Amendment, which officially ushered in prohibition on this week in 1919. Stay tuned for more trivia from recovery history in future episodes.

This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Deputy Samantha Clementi of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Thank you for listening today. If you like what you hear, please check out our catalog of previous episodes. I’m confident you can find another one that picks your interest. See you next time.