A federal appeals court has reinstated a constitutional violations damage lawsuit against several police officers who handcuffed a Waynesboro, Virginia, man and locked him up in a mental health facility for nearly week for having a chronic disease similar to multiple sclerosis.
They believed he was hallucinating, and, according to the newest ruling in the case, from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, didn’t bother with the facts.
“The facts as alleged in the complaint … provided no reasonable basis for the officers to have concluded that [Gordon] Goines was a danger to himself or others. Goines alleged that he went to the police ‘because he did not know how the neighbor would react’ to a confrontation with Goines and ‘he did not want to ‘get in a fight’ with the neighbor,” the 4th Circuit panel’s opinion said Tuesday.
“Goines, though having speech and other physical difficulties, exhibited no signs of mental illness and made no threats to harm himself or others, but instead sought the help of the police to avoid confrontation and potential fight with a neighbor who had spliced into Goines’ cable line.
“Under these facts, the officers lacked probable cause for an emergency mental-health detention, and Goines’ complaint therefore alleges a constitutional violation.”
Officials with the Rutherford Institute, who have been fighting on behalf of Gordon Goines, a 37-year-old man who suffers from a neurological condition that leaves him with slurred speech and an unsteady walk, said the ruling will allow them to pursue the lawsuit against the police officers to whom Goines went for help.
He ended up strip searched, handcuffed to a table and diagnosed with “mental health issues,” even though that was not the case.
“Goines’ complaint tells the story of police who assumed from Goines’ physical difficulties that he was mentally ill and never actually listened to what Goines was telling them,” the appeals court found.
“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 John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
“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.”
WND reported earlier Goines’ affliction is cerebellar ataxia, and as a result he “has difficulty at times with his balance, causing him to walk unsteadily, speaks slowly and with a slur and has problems with fine motor skills.”
But he has no cognitive impairment and is of above-average intelligence, the report from Rutherford noted.
Police officers “wrongfully arrested, strip searched, handcuffed to a table” Goines. Then he was locked up for five days in a mental health hospital against his will – and with no access to family and friends, Rutherford reported.
The Fourth Amendment lawsuit explained that it was on May 15, 2014, when Goines had difficulty with his cable service. He called the company, and a technician told him a neighbor had spliced into his service, suggesting Goines call police.
He walked across the street to the Waynesboro Police Department to report the theft, and one responding officer said Goines was having “mental-health issues.”
The officers asked him if he wanted to talk to someone, and Goines, thinking they meant about the cable theft, agreed.
Instead of addressing the theft, the officers handcuffed him and took him to the Augusta County Medical Center, where he was interviewed by a screener who was not a licensed medical professional, clinical psychologist or social worker.
He then was taken to the Crossroads Mental Health Center, where he was held until a later hearing found he had no mental illness.
Mental health screener Jenna Rhodes of the Valley Community Services Board was dismissed from the lawsuit, in part because her information for making a decision was based on the officers’ contention that Goines was suffering from mental health issues.
But the officers had no excuse, said the ruling, which now will allow the damages complaint to continue in district court.
“Goines alleged that he has no mental illness, and the facts he described in the complaint – noises in the television line and signal disruption caused by a neighbor splicing into Goines’ cable line and a desire not to fight with the thieving neighbor – provide no basis for the officers to have reasonably concluded otherwise,” the ruling continued.
“Because Goines’ complaint plausibly alleges facts that no reasonable officer would have found sufficient to justify an emergency mental-health detention, the complaint states a constitutional violation by the officers for which they would not be entitled to qualified immunity.”
The opinion said the officers “simply assumed a threat without exploring whether the situation reflected some misunderstanding, a bizarre but non-dangerous incident, or something more problematic.”