A former behavioral therapist in Florida is facing a felony molestation charge after a session with two young girls in Polk County.
Jessica Lazzara, 42, was employed with Big Bear Behavioral Health in Maitland, Florida and was sent to a home as a trauma therapist for two victims of sexual abuse. According to a report by WFLA, the girls were aged 11 and 13. Police said that Lazzara had been their counselor for several months at the time of the incident.
When Lazzara arrived at the victims’ home for a weekly session in April, police said the 13-year-old would not get out of bed. Lazarra is accused of pointing a small bow and arrow at the victim, and hitting the girl with the arrow.
According to the allegations, the two girls and their mother then went to the backyard to talk to with Lazzara. Deputies said the therapist asked the 11-year-old if she wanted to be spanked. Lazzara then allegedly rolled the child over and stuck a lighter between the girl’s legs several times. Then, Lazzara allegedly spray-painted the 11-year-old’s legs with black paint before spray-painting the 27-year-old mother’s crotch area.
“Mom was going along with this at the very beginning, because she thought this was some sort of extreme trust exercise,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in the WFLA report.
But then, things got really out of hand. The group then moved to the front yard, where Sheriff Judd said Lazzara lifted her shirt and bra to expose herself before rubbing herself on one of the girls. According to the Orlando Sentinel, she allegedly touched the girls inappropriately, then said she was going to kill everyone and herself. One of the girls then locked themselves in the house and called 911.
“They knew their mental health counselor was in mental health crisis and locked themselves in the house,” Sheriff Judd said. A responding deputy claimed Lazzara told him to just shoot her. She was then taken for a mental health evaluation.
Lazzara has been charged with lewd molestation, lewd and lascivious conduct, child abuse, battery, and indecent exposure.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Sheriff Judd questioned Lazzara’s former employer, Big Bear Behavioral Health, for employing her. According to Sheriff Judd, Lazzara was arrested in 2006 and 2010 for providing alcohol to a minor and DUI. Lazzara was involuntarily committed for mental health issues in 2005 and 2016. The woman also told deputies she lost her children during a divorce proceeding due to her mental health issues.
“I don’t know if it’s her conduct that upsets me the most, or the fact that Big Bear put somebody with a history, in a home, counseling by herself,” said Sheriff Judd.
Big Bear released a statement Tuesday afternoon:
Big Bear was notified of the incident and took immediate action to address the concerns reported to us. Big Bear places great value on the confidentiality and safety of our clients and staff, and are dedicated to serving our community with caring, competent strength. We pride ourselves in working with clinicians of the highest caliber, and exceed all local, state and federal guidelines in qualifying our employees prior to hire.”