FROSTPROOF, Fla. (WFLA) — A former behavioral therapist is facing a felony molestation charge following a session with two young girls in Polk County.
Jessica Lazzara, 42, was employed with Big Bear Behavioral Health in Maitland and was sent to a Frostproof home as a trauma therapist for the two victims of sexual abuse, ages 11 and 13 years old. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday that Lazzara had been their counselor for several months at the point of the incident.
When Lazzara arrived at the home for a weekly session in April, deputies say the 13-year-old would not get out of bed. Lazarra is accused of pointing a small bow and arrow at the victim, then hitting the girl with the arrow.
The two girls and their mother then went to the backyard and were talking with Lazzara. At some point, deputies say the therapist asked the 11-year-old if she wanted to be spanked. Sheriff Judd said Lazzara then rolled the child over and stuck a lighter between the girl’s legs several times.
According to investigators, Lazzara spray-painted the 11-year-old’s legs with black paint then spray-painted 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.
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 victim two.
When Lazzara said she was going to kill everyone and herself, the victims 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 said Lazzara told him to just shoot her. She was then taken for a mental health evaluatioon.
Lazzara has been charged with lewd molestation, lewd and lascivious conduct, child abuse, battery and indecent exposure. She is being held in the Polk County Jail.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Sheriff Judd had serious questions for Lazzara’s former employer, Big Bear Behavioral Health.
According to the sheriff, Lazzara was arrested in 2006 and 2010, for providing alcohol to a minor and DUI. She was Baker Acted for mental health issues in 2005 and 2016.
Lazzara also told deputies she lost her children during a divorce proceeding because of 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.
My question is, has Jessica lost it with any other children she’s been counseling? And how many people did Big Bear hire with these same issues?” Sheriff Judd questioned.
Big Bear released a statement Tuesday afternoon that states:
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.”
Big Bear said they are cooperating with authorities during the investigation.
Sheriff Judd said the organization had not returned calls from investigators until Tuesday, after media showed up at their location.
WFLA News Channel 8 checked state records and found that Lazzara is a registered mental health counselor intern.
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