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Unlawful Detentions, Suicide and Liability

July 22, 2015 | Posted In Family Law - Family Law |

It is common for family members and close friends who have lost loved ones to suicide to transfer part or all of the blame to themselves. Perhaps they could have done more, could have paid closer attention, could have reacted better and could have enlisted friends and family to possibly stop the person from committing suicide.

Even for family members who did everything they could do at the time, the guilt and blame are hard to shake. However, for families who are dealing with an angry, suicidal or depressed relative, involving the police may not be the way to go, as a recent case in New Jersey illustrated.

Banas Files a Claim Against the Garfield Police Department
Georgianna Banas filed a civil rights claim against the Garfield Police Department, alleging she had been detained against her will by officers from the department who received a tip from Judy Ritter (Banas’ mother) that she was trying to kill herself.

In September of 2012, Ritter, who lives in Las Vegas, called her daughter’s local police department, claiming that she feared for her daughter’s life. She reported that Banas was suicidal after her husband kicked their son out of the house for being disrespectful. Ritter thought that Banas would overdose on pills in response to her husband’s actions, but she reported that Banas had no weapons in the house.

Police showed up to Banas’s home and asked her to submit to a psychological evaluation based on her mother’s call. She and her husband insisted that she was not suicidal, but police asked her to take an ambulance to the hospital to be evaluated.

She offered to go in her own car, but then agreed to ride with the officers and walked to the ambulance without being handcuffed or restrained in any way, according to the police report. Her evaluation lasted between five and six hours, and then she was free to leave.

In her lawsuit, Banas claimed that the four police officers who came to her house violated her Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens from unlawful search and seizure. The case was moved to federal court because of the federal law in question.

Third-Party Tips
In her determination, U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo turned to cases in other circuits that have dealt with similar issues. In Fisher v. Harden, a case from the Sixth Circuit, judges held that the police did not have probable cause to detain someone, as the informant’s tip was found to be incorrect.

However, other circuits have ruled that third-party tips can contribute to the creation of probable cause, as in the decision from a 2009 case in the District of New Jersey. In Hohsfield v. Township of Manchester, the judges ruled that a tip phoned in by a man’s girlfriend about his overdose on sleeping pills was sufficient probable cause for police to require a mandatory psychological evaluation.

In Banas’s case, Arleo dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not yet addressed the issue and a reasonable officer might believe that he has probable cause based on the similar case rulings. As of now, the police officers are not liable for Banas’s involuntary detention.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone whose rights have been violated through due process or who has questions regarding their detention, arrest or a search and seizure. For more information, contact a New Jersey family law attorney at HCK today.

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