MILWAUKEE, WI — The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is not a violation of constitutional rights if police break down a citizen’s door, search the home, and confiscate firearms, so long that they believe it is in the citizen’s best interest.
A Doctor’s Concern
The lawsuit stems back to an incident that occurred on May 22, 2011. A psychiatrist, Dr. Michelle Bentle, phoned police to report that a patient had expressed a suicidal thought during an outpatient appointment; the woman had received some bad news and privately expressed grief during a difficult appointment.
At approximately noon, Milwaukee Police were dispatched to search for Krysta Sutterfield, age 42 at the time, in order to forcibly detain her and commit her for a mandatory medical evaluation. In Wisconsin, the mere suggestion of suicide is grounds for forcible police detention.
Sutterfield told Police State USA that the alleged threat that was perceived by her doctor, put out by police, and then quoted by the media was sensationalist and false. She recalled: “I never said anything like ‘I’m going to harm myself.'”
According to Sutterfield, police went about locating her in an odd manner. “That night, the police had time to find out where I’d bought my car, and call the dealer to get info on my car,” she told Police State USA. “But they didn’t bother to look in the phone book (or ask my doctor for my phone numbers) and call me.”
Hours passed. No contact had been made between police and Ms. Sutterfield. However, Dr. Bentle and Sutterfield had a phone conversation that afternoon.
“She knew I was fine,” Sutterfield told Police State USA. “We agreed to talk the next day.”
After being informed of the police involvement, Sutterfield requested that Dr. Bentle ask that police “call off ” the search. The doctor notified police that she spoke with her patient and that “she was not in need of assistance.”
Confrontation At Home
However, police did not call off the search. At 8:30 p.m., Officer Jamie Hewitt showed up on Sutterfield’s doorstep and found that she was at home. Sutterfield answered the door for Hewitt — a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car — but would not permit her to enter. Sutterfield had doubts about the identity of the visitor, and explained that she did not need assistance and would like to be left alone.
However, Officer Hewitt would not take ‘no’ for an answer. The showdown continued for approximately 30 minutes. Police requested backup, and Ms. Sutterfield called 9-1-1 to attempt to call off the pushy officers.
“Unable to gain admittance to the house,” the court summary states, officers “concluded that the police would have to enter it forcefully.” Approximately 9 hours had passed since the doctor’s concern had been reported.
As Sutterfield’s second 9-1-1 call was in progress, police breached her door and accosted her. The call recording reveals that she offered to talk to officers through the door a total of 14 times. She also told them to stay out of her house a total of 21 times, the recording shows.
LISTEN: Krysta Sutterfield’s 9-1-1 Call
The recorded 9-1-1 call documented Sutterfield’s voice demanding that police “let go of her and that they leave her home.” Instead, she was shackled and detained against her will.
Sutterfield told Police State USA that police put her through considerable amount of pain, wrenching her arm behind her back in an uncomfortable position due to a collarbone injury.
As Sutterfield was left bound on the floor of her living room, officers barked questions at her.
“WHERE ARE THE GUNS? HOW MANY GUNS ARE IN THE HOUSE?”
Despite having no warrant, officers helped themselves to a “proactive sweep” of the woman’s home. During the search, police broke open a locked, opaque case and discovered her pistol. “It was definitely not in plain sight,” Sutterfield said, explaining that the officers had opened up a gym bag located in another room, and then busted open a locked CD case to reveal her gun.
Officers seized the pistol, its magazine, as well as a BB gun (physically incapable of taking a human life), several holsters, and her CCW licenses.
Sutterfield was taken into police custody and to a hospital for a forced medical evaluation at the county’s Mental Health Complex; the state’s forced evaluations can last for as long as 72 hours.
Sutterfield’s ‘evaluation’ consisted of waiting several hours to be seen, followed by a staff member contacting Dr. Bentle to confirm that she was OK. Sutterfield says she got home around 2 a.m. after a night of police harassment and wasted time in a hospital.
Upon returning home, Sutterfield said she “went around the house turning off all the lights they’d left on, and closing all the closet doors they’d opened, then I emailed my lawyer.”
Having obtained legal counsel, Suttefield moved to sue the Milwaukee Police Department for violating several of her civil rights, including her rights under the 2nd Amendment and the 4th Amendment. Sutterfield believed that her home was illegally searched without a warrant and that her firearms were illegally seized.
She was met with resistance along the way.
“We waited 2 months for [MPD] to fill my open records request for all documents & audio related to that night,” Sutterfield said. “Then they wouldn’t hand it over unless I signed a form waiving my right to sue them.”
Sutterfield said that the following day she took them to court. “The judge ordered them to hand things over, and fined them,” Sutterfield explained. “Their deposition about the open records situation was a pack of lies. Luckily, I had recorded (video & audio) everything. We supplied that to the judge and there was never any question of ruling in our favor. I’d like to know what happened to the people who committed perjury.”
After obtaining documents and evidence from the police, Sutterfield moved forward with her lawsuit. It went before U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller in Milwaukee, who unfortunately dismissed the case, initially. Sutterfield later appealed. The appeal did not go in her favor, either.
“Although the court had found it ‘likely’ that Sutterfield’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, the court discerned no basis to hold Milwaukee liable for the violation,” Judge Illana Rovner wrote for the three-judge panel on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She conceded that “the intrusions upon Sutterfield’s privacy were profound,” and noted, “at the core of the privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment is the right to be let alone in one’s home.”
However, since the court believed that the forced entry was done with Sutterfield’s best interests in mind, the circumstances were allowable under the 4th Amendment. Judge Rovner wrote, “There is no suggestion that (police) acted for any reason other than to protect Sutterfield from harm.”
“Even if the officers did exceed constitutional boundaries,” the court document states, “they are protected by qualified immunity.”
In short, Sutterfield’s privacy (which was admittedly encroached upon) was left unprotected by the Bill of Rights because of the “exigent circumstances” in which police executed an emergency detention — with no warrant, no criminal charges, and no input from the judiciary. Similarly, the gun confiscation was also deemed as acceptable due to the so-called “emergency” which police claimed had been taking place for 9 consecutive hours.
The federal ruling affirms a legal loophole which allows targeted home invasions, warrantless searches, and gun confiscations that rest entirely in the hands of the Executive Branch. The emergency aid doctrine enables police to act without a search warrant, even if there is time to get one. When the government wants to check on someone, his or her rights are essentially suspended until the person’s sanity has been forcibly validated.
Krysta Sutterfield intends on appealing this dangerous court decision to the Supreme Court. This will be extremely expensive — filing paperwork alone costs thousands of dollars. She is asking for help in making sure this precedent does not stand for long.
Payment method #1:
Mail payment direct to her lawyer. Mark the funds as support for Krysta Sutterfield’s case.
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