‘The system failed’: Mother says daughter killed by Polk sergeant suffered from mental health disorders

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County mother says law enforcement was trying to help her daughter the day before a deadly confrontation with a Polk County sergeant ended her life.

“We’ve been standing behind her to help her but most of the time the system failed. The system is trash,” said Jessica Rivera Hweih, Jessiram Hweih Rivera’s mother.

Courtesy: Jessica Rivera Hweih

Rivera, 24, a mother to 6-year old and 2-month old daughters, struggled with addiction, mental health issues, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to her mother, and a criminal record going back eight years.

Prior arrests include aggravated assault and battery on a law enforcement officer.

“Behind that, there’s a story, where she’s been struggling and fighting with her demons and she wanted to be good so bad,” said Hweih.

Hweih says this week she was working with a Polk County sheriff’s deputy through the Marchman Act, a Florida statute that provides emergency assistance and temporary detention for individuals requiring substance abuse evaluation and treatment.

“The day before yesterday, one sheriff called me and he recognized her name and he said, ‘I’m looking for her, give me her cell phone. I’m gonna look for her and help her’ and the next day another sheriff shot her four times on her chest,” she said.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Jessiram Hweih Rivera was seen walking in and out of moving traffic on Rifle Range Road in Wahneta at approximately 3:30 Thursday afternoon.

When Sgt. Sean Speakman arrived, he saw Rivera “in an obvious state of agitation” and holding a shovel, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office.

“The Sergeant gave her verbal commands to stop and put the shovel down multiple times and began backing away. She did not put the shovel down, and continued to advance towards the Sergeant, threatening him with the shovel,” the press release reads.

Sgt. Speakman fired four shots at Rivera and she was declared deceased at a hospital.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was out of town Friday and unavailable for an interview.

The shooting is under investigation by the sheriff’s office Homicide Unit, PCSO Administrative Investigations and the state’s attorney’s office.

“He’s supposed to help her, not kill her because she had a shovel. There were so many ways to address that,” said Hweih.

Friends returned to the scene where shots were fired Friday to lay flowers and make signs, calling for justice.

“To kill her cold like that, she needs her justice,” said Natasha Martin, a friend.

“She didn’t deserve to be shot four times because she had a shovel in her hand. She wouldn’t have ever hurt nobody,” said Amanda James, a friend.

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