RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court has given attorneys for The Rutherford Institute the green light to move forward with a lawsuit against Virginia police officers on behalf of a 37-year-old disabled man who went to a police station to report the theft of his cable services and ended up being strip searched, handcuffed to a table, diagnosed as having “mental health issues,” and involuntarily detained for six days for a mental-health evaluation with no access to family and friends, allegedly because of his slurred speech and unsteady gait.
In reversing a lower court decision and reinstating the Fourth Amendment lawsuit against two police officers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Waynesboro resident Gordon Goines’ lawsuit “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.” Goines suffers from a neurological condition similar to multiple sclerosis.
“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 and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “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.”
Gordon Goines resides in Waynesboro and suffers from cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition similar to multiple or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a result, Goines 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. Goines has no cognitive impairment, is of above-average intelligence, and is acutely aware of what is happening around him. The complaint alleges that on May 15, 2014, Goines was having problems with his cable television reception, including disconnections and extremely loud line noise and signals, and called the cable company for assistance. A technician determined that a neighbor had spliced into Goines’ cable and recommended that Goines contact police about the theft. Goines walked across the street to the Waynesboro Police Dept. and reported the theft to one officer, who called on two other officers to follow Goines home and investigate his complaint. However, the first officer reported that Goines was having “mental health issues.” The officers then proceeded to question Goines about his “mental health issues.” Goines told them he did not have any mental health problems. The officers then asked Goines if he wanted to go talk to someone. Believing they meant about the cable theft, Goines told them he did. The officers then handcuffed him and transported Goines, who pleaded to be taken home, to Augusta County Medical Center. After he arrived, he was examined by an employee of Virginia Community Services Board (VCSB) who concluded that Goines suffered from a psychotic condition, and a petition for Goines’ involuntary detention was filed as a result. In May 2015, a federal district court dismissed Goines’ lawsuit against the police officers and VCSB concluding that the defendants were entitled to immunity from suit because they had not violated clearly established law in seizing and detaining Goines. Affiliate attorneys Jesse Baker, IV, and Timothy Coffield assisted The Rutherford Institute by representing Goines on appeal.