A dirtbag boyfriend and an unreasonable cop

Bruce v. Guernsey, No. 14-1352 (7th Cir. Jan. 26, 2015).

Seventeen-year-old Falyn Bruce and her boyfriend got into an argument at the boyfriend’s house. Bruce tried to leave. The boyfriend tried to stop her, but thankfully Bruce was able to get away. She wound up spending the night at a friend’s house. The next morning, she called her dad and told him that she was fine but didn’t want to go to school. 

That same morning, the boyfriend started a rumor that Bruce had tried to hang herself with a belt the night before. This rumor eventually reached the high school guidance counselor, who called the police. The police talked to Bruce’s dad, who said that he had spoken to his daughter and that she was fine. The police ignored him and dispatched Officer Justin Harris to check on Bruce, who was still at her friend’s place. Officer Harris reported that Bruce was “o.k.,” but told Bruce to come outside. When Bruce asked why, Harris replied, “If you want to ask questions, I can just handcuff you and take you out myself.” So Bruce went outside. 

Soon after, two other people arrived. One was Derek Guernsey, a Sheriff’s Deputy. The second was Bruce’s father. Deputy Guernsey immediately told Bruce to get into his police car. Bruce and her father objected, telling him that she was fine. Deputy Guernsey, who had been told only that Bruce was “possibly suicidal,” insisted that she go with him to the hospital. Once there, Guernsey signed a petition for “involuntary judicial admission,” stating that Bruce was likely to harm herself or others if not admitted for inpatient treatment. The petition said that a copy of a physician’s medical examination was attached. False: no doctor had examined Bruce yet. The petition said that Bruce had told him she was thinking of suicide; this too was false. Still, as a result of the petition, Bruce was admitted and did not leave until three days later. 

Bruce has sued Officer Harris and Deputy Guernsey, asserting they violated the Fourth Amendment by taking her into custody without probable cause. The district court dismissed her complaint, and Bruce appealed.

Taking the facts alleged in her complaint as true—just as I’ve done here—the Seventh Circuit reverses in part. It holds that Officer Harris had enough information to justify taking Bruce outside the house and holding her for the short time that he did (about 37 minutes). Matters are different for Deputy Guernsey. He “forced a perfectly calm and rational minor, surrounded by several friends and her father, to get in his police car so that she could be taken to the hospital, over the objections of the father, based solely on a report that she was possibly suicidal.” The petition he signed ensured that Bruce would stay in the hospital once there, and yet what he said in the petition wasn’t true—and, if Bruce is to be believed, Guernsey knew it wasn’t true. Deputy Guernsey violated clearly established constitutional law. Bruce’s claims against him may proceed.