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No Immunity for Cops Who Detained Suicidal Sergeant

MILWAUKEE (CN) - A federal judge refused to grant immunity to two Milwaukee police officers after they arrested a police sergeant who admitted during a psychiatric evaluation that he had thoughts of suicide and shooting fellow officers.

Jason Mucha sued the city of Milwaukee, its Employees' Retirement System (ERS) and its executive director, along with two police officers, this past March.

Mucha applied for disability in 2012 because of work-related stress, and admitted in a psychiatric evaluation that he "had thoughts of suicide ... [and] of suicide by cop."

The sergeant also told the evaluator, "I think of going to a command staff meeting with a rifle, shooting them until they shoot me."

But importantly, Mucha also told the psychiatrist that he did not want to kill himself and was not intending to shoot other officers at a staff meeting.

At the end of the interview, the psychiatrist determined that he could not allow Mucha to return to work.

Nearly a month later, the Milwaukee Police Department sent two officers assigned to its tactical-enforcement unit - both defendants in the case - to Mucha's home. After speaking with him, they "decided to detain him against his will and transport him to the county mental-health facility pursuant to Wisconsin's 'emergency detention' law," U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman recounted in a ruling issued Tuesday.

Mucha was held for three days and then released after being cleared by another physician.

In his complaint, Mucha claimed the defendants violated his right to be free from unreasonable seizures, and that the ERS should not have disclosed the psychiatric evaluation. The sergeant says that the agency only did so to prevent him from receiving disability benefits.

The detaining officers, Jutiki Jackson and Donald Gaglione, moved for dismissal of Mucha's unreasonable seizure claims on qualified immunity grounds. But Adelman refused to grant the officers immunity, writing that "emergency detention is authorized only if the person either attempts suicide or harm to others or threatens suicide or harm to others. The evidence in the defendants' possession at the time of the seizure did not support the conclusion that Mucha had made a recent threat to kill himself or other officers."

The judge also pointed out that by waiting over two weeks after receiving the report to seize Mucha, the sergeant's supposed threat "was stale by the time the officers acted upon it."

Jackson and Gaglione cited the physician's report from the mental-health facility, which they said confirmed that Mucha met the requirements for emergency detention to support their argument But Adelman refuted that.

"The physician's determination is irrelevant to the question of whether the officials had probable cause at the time of the seizure," the judge wrote. "The physician made his determination after the seizure was complete; that determination could have been based on facts that the physician learned during his own examination of Mucha. Those facts would have been unknown to Jackson and Gaglione at the time of the seizure and therefore could not have supplied probable cause for the seizure."

Adelman did grant immunity to ERS Director Bernard Allen, however, after determining that Mucha failed to cite any case-law that proved the release of a medical record could result in a violation of federal law.

The judge also dismissed Mucha's claims for unreasonable seizure and false imprisonment against Milwaukee.

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