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Court Won’t Reopen Case of Navy Officer’s Suicide

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit will not rehear a case seeking damages from the Navy for the suicide of a hospital corpsman.

In a two-sentence order released Tuesday the court denied a petition for rehearing en banc. Two members of the original three-judge panel voted to deny the petition. Since no other judge requested a vote, the petition was denied.

Judge Terence Evans had been a member of the appellate panel but did not participate in the decision of this case because he died on Aug. 10.

The case involved the Jan 27, 2008, suicide of Christopher Lee Purcell, who enlisted in the Navy three years earlier.

After 21-year-old Purcell reported suicidal thoughts to his sister over MySpace, base security was dispatched to his home. Arriving on the scene, officers found an empty gun case and bullets on top of a television stand but no weapon. When the officers tried to restrain Purcell, a struggle ensued. He was eventually subdued by five officers.

Back in his room, officers let Purcell use the bathroom and removed one of his handcuffs. Nathan Mutschler, a friend of Purcell's, accompanied him.

"After entering the bathroom, Purcell pulled his gun from his waistband and committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest," court documents state.

Two responding officers, Petty Officer First Class Mitchell Tafel and Petty Officer First Class David Rodriguez, faced courts-martial for negligent conduct and were punished via extrajudicial proceeding.

Purcell's family filed an administrative tort claim with the Navy seeking $45 million in damages. A panel of the 7th Circuit denied the claim on the Feres doctrine, a tenant of the Federal Tort Claims Act that bars lawsuits brought by soldiers against the United States and its employees for military service-related injuries.

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