In Waynesboro, Virginia, one can apparently get arrested for being sick.
That’s according to a lawsuit filed by the Rutherford Institute on behalf of a 37-year-old man who was diagnosed by police and an “unlicensed mental health screener” as having “mental health issues,” even though his problem was only with cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition.
“By giving government officials the power to declare individuals mentally ill and detain them against their will without first ensuring that they are actually trained to identify such illness, the government has opened the door to a system in which involuntary detentions can be used to make people disappear,” said the institute’s president, John W. Whitehead.
“Indeed, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally,” he said.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia names the Valley Community Services Board, VCSB “intake clinician” Jenna Rhodes and police officers David Shaw, Robert Dean and D.L. Williams as defendants.
It alleges that Gordon Goines, a 37-year-old disabled man from Waynesboro who has been diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease, was noticed by police to have slurred speech and an unsteady gait.
He was diagnosed by untrained case participants with “mental health issues,” arrested and locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will and “with no access to family and friends,” according to the complaint.
A subsequent hearing found no mental illness and no justification for the detention, Rutherford said.
The case explains there were Fourth and 14th Amendment violations.
“The complaint alleges that on May 15, 2014, Goines was having problems with his cable television reception, including disconnections and extremely loud line noise and signals, and called the cable company for assistance. A technician determined that a neighbor had spliced into Goines cable and recommended Goines contact police about the theft,” Rutherford said.
He went across the street to the police department and talked to an officer about the theft, and that officer called two others to follow Goines home and investigate.
However, the officer also claimed Goines was having mental health issues.
“The officers then proceeded to question Goines about his ‘mental health issues’; Goines told them he did not have any mental health problems,” the institute said.
But the officers handcuffed him and took him to the Augusta County Medical Center, where, according to the court documentation, he was examined by a worker who said he was suffering from a psychotic condition.
A petition for Goines’ involuntary detention was filed as a result.
But, according to the court documents, while Goines has difficulty at times with his balance and speaks slowly and with a slur, he “has no cognitive impairment, is of above-average intelligence, and acutely aware of what is happening around him.”
The complaint alleges the screener lacked training to diagnose mental disorders and was not a licensed medical professional, clinical psychologist or even a social worker.
“The impacts of cerebellar ataxia are purely physiological. The disorder does not affect Goines’ cognitive functioning,” the complaint explains.
But the police officers allegedly made little effort to look beyond the physical impacts, the slowed gait or slurred words.
After going with Goines to his apartment, Shaw and Dean apparently “ignored or did not take the time to understand Goines’ complaint.”
“According to the incident report later prepared by Shaw, Goines told them ‘there was a clicking noise in the wall because someone outside was controlling his TV.'”
Goines had gone to police because the technician had said the repair could not be made without entering the neighbor’s apartment, which he was not authorized to do. He told officers he didn’t want to confront the neighbor about the apparent theft.
The officers, however, “did not hear the line noise and signals, because they did not turn on Goines’ television,” the complaint said.
Their conclusion, in their report, was that Goines was “having irrational issues and hearing things.”
“At the time of the seizure, transportation and detention of Goines, none of the defendants had probable cause to believe that Goines had committed any crime, nor did any defendant have probable cause to believe that Goines was a danger to himself or others, nor did any defendant have any other legitimate lawful basis to seize, arrest or detain him,” the complaint states.
In custody, Goines told officials about his cerebellar ataxia, which a worker called “shrunken cerebellum,” and provided the name of his physician, who never was contacted.
He also was accused of appearing “disoriented as to time” by workers who had confiscated his watch and cell phone.