RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia police officials have agreed to settle a lawsuit over the wrongful arrest, strip search and detention of a disabled man based on his slurred speech and unsteady gait. The Fourth Amendment lawsuit was filed by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of 37-year-old Gordon Goines, a resident of Waynesboro, Va., who suffers from a neurological condition similar to multiple sclerosis. Goines was seized by Waynesboro, Va., police officers, strip searched, handcuffed to a table, diagnosed as having “mental health issues,” and subsequently locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will and with no access to family and friends.
The settlement follows a May 2016 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reinstating the lawsuit after a lower court dismissal. In allowing the case to move forward, the Appeals court noted that the case “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.”
Affiliate attorney Timothy Coffield assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Goines.
“This cases epitomizes everything that is wrong with the nation’s system of law enforcement. Here is a man who turned to police for help when he had a problem, he didn’t resist when they handcuffed him to a table, he didn’t protest when they strip searched him, and despite the fact that he had broken no law and committed no crime, he still ended up locked away for days,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Thankfully, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the need to balance the scales, but this issue will not be resolved until better protocols are in place to ensure that police do not abuse the power to unilaterally declare individuals mentally ill and detain them against their will—whether or not they suffer from mental illness.”
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 alleged 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.