911 Report from Neighbor That Person Is Suicidal Is Not Sufficient Basis for Police Officer to Seize Person for Emergency Mental Evaluation When Officer Observed Person and Saw Nothing Indicating a Danger to Self

Article excerpt

Riding his bike while intoxicated, a 41-year-old North Carolina man fell down in his neighbor's yard. The neighbor called 911, which led to a report to the police that he was intoxicated and had told his neighbor that he was depressed and going home to commit suicide. After returning home, the man was visited by a responding police officer.

Although disputed, there was evidence that the man invited the officer into the house, resumed eating his lunch at a dining room table, and in response to a series of questions denied any thoughts of suicide. There were no weapons or any other indications of preparations for a suicide attempt in view. After five minutes of questioning, the officer was apparently satisfied and the man asked the officer to leave, escorted him out of the house, and closed the front door.

As the first officer stepped onto the porch, a second officer arrived to whom the first officer may have said "we're going to have to do something." The second officer then knocked on the front door. After telling the second officer that the suicide report was "crazy," that the officers "need[ed] to leave," and that he was going to call his lawyer, the man attempted to close the door. The second officer grabbed the man's arm in an attempt to pull him onto the porch, a fight ensued, and in the course of being subdued the man was struck in the face multiple times, kicked in the back, handcuffed, and dragged by his feet to the curbside. Stitches and repeated surgeries were needed to repair the injuries the man incurred. The man sued the officers, arguing the officers did not have probable cause for an emergency mental health evaluation. The officers responded the neighbor's 911 report had established the needed probable cause.

The Fourth Circuit rejected the officers' assertion. …

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