Samaritan Claims L.A. Booked Him for Spite

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – An L.A. County employee revenged himself on the owner of a suicide hotline by calling a SWAT team that held him at gunpoint and confined him for three days, the man claims in court.
     Donald Austen claims a Social Service worker sicced police on him by claiming, falsely, that he was suicidal. He sued the county, its Department of Public Social Service, DPPS Officer Jessica Cruz, the LAPD, two of its officers and Mission Community Hospital, to which he was involuntarily committed.
     Austen says he founded Thursday’s Child in 1982, a nonprofit charity that has helped more than half a million children and families.
     His Sept. 21 federal lawsuit accuses Los Angeles of false arrest, excessive force and other charges.
     “It began with an innocent phone call by Austen to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Services to inquire about the possibility of a grant from DPPS for Austen’s Thursday’s Child organization that provides suicide and mental health hotline services to children and teens. It ended with helicopters overhead and a SWAT team from the Los Angeles Police Department surrounding Austen’s house, forcing him to lie on the ground at gunpoint, handcuffing him, and unlawfully detaining him for 72 hours until he was released without charge,” Austen says in the complaint. (Acronyms omitted.)
     Austen says that when he called Mental Health Services in early February to ask about a grant, he got into an argument with Cruz about whom to talk to. He claims that Cruz called back that day and “began asking Austen if he was suicidal. Austen stated that he was most definitely not suicidal and felt her questions were inappropriate,” the complaint states.
     When Austen demanded to speak to her supervisor, he says, Cruz put him on hold for 20 minutes. After hanging up, Austen says, Cruz called 911 and asked police to do a welfare check on him, claiming he was a DPPS client. She said he was “not coherent and tangential,” was having suicidal thoughts, and claimed he had said he would “take out” any police who came near him, according to the complaint.
     Austen says these were all lies and Cruz knew it.
     “Shortly after Jessica’s less than truthful, under color of law, 911 call, Austen began hearing a helicopter outside his location [home] where Thursday’s Child is headquartered. About 10 or 15 minutes later, he received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as [defendant Sandra] Holguin with the LAPD. Holguin asked Austen if he was suicidal. Austen told her no, he was not, and then the conversation ended,” the complaint states.
     Holguin called back 20 minutes later and told him to go outside without saying why, Austen says. He did, and saw a SWAT team on his property, several police cars on the street and a uniformed officer pointing a gun at his front gate.
     Holguin told him the police just wanted to talk, Austen says, so agreed to lie on the ground. SWAT officers then handcuffed and “paraded” him onto the street “while his neighbors gawked,” and Holguin refused his request to move the interview to a more private place, he claims.
     Austen says his “calm condition” and cooperation should have shown he was not a threat to himself or others, but they hauled him off to Mission Community Hospital and put him on an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric hold, without probable cause.
     He claims no doctor ever evaluated his mental health, and that he was detained to “punish and intimidate” him into not suing for the humiliating debacle at his home.
     “This involuntary commitment for nonexistent mental health reasons taints Austen’s future and imposes restrictions on him that he would not have otherwise suffered” if not for Cruz’s bogus 911 call and his “improper detention” by police, the complaint states.
     He claims he suffered ridicule, anxiety, emotional distress and loss of reputation and income as a result, and that Thursday’s Child hotlines were unstaffed for three days.
     None of the defendants immediately returned requests for comment Tuesday.
     Austen seeks punitive damages for 11 causes of action, including excessive force, due process violations, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false light and invasion of privacy.
     He is represented by Sidney Kanazawa, with McGuire Woods, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

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