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Mental Commitment – Sufficiency of Evidence to show 2nd standard of dangerousness

Barron County v. Dennis H., 2010AP1026, District 3, 10/19/10

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Dennis H.: Jefren E. Olsen, SPD, Madison Appellate

Evidence held sufficient to support finding of dangerousness.

1) Recent overt act, attempt or threat to do serious physical harm. A psychologist testified that Dennis at times displayed aggressive behavior (“he changes at the snap of the finger and will become highly excitable, very angry, pressured speech, threatening in his demeanor and menacing, and an ordinary layperson who is not used to this would, I think, undoubtedly turn around and run like heck”). And a psychiatrist, similarly, that Dennis “started making threats,” so that the psychiatrist considered him “violent and unpredictable.” The court rejects Dennis’ argument that more than “a threatening and menacing demeanor” is required: “The objective evidence of Dennis’s conduct—his angry, irritable shouting and excited rambling as he approaches the target of his verbal onslaught, his habit of getting in the faces of his treatment providers, and his physical contact with another patient—was sufficient to satisfy § 51.20(1)(a)2.b.’s ‘overt act, attempt or threat’ requirement,” ¶6.

2) Put others in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serous physical harm:

¶9        Dennis contends the subjective fear of the doctors and staff is insufficient to satisfy the “reasonable fear” requirement of WIS. STAT. § 51.20(1)(a)2.b.  In other words, Dennis asserts his actions would not have placed an ordinary person in fear of harm.  See R.J. v. Winnebago County, 146 Wis. 2d 516, 522, 431 N.W.2d 708 (Ct. App. 1988) (evidence should focus on the objective acts of the disturbed person, not subjective feelings of the threatened individual).  We disagree.  If Dennis’s aggressive behavior caused trained psychologists accustomed to dealing with unruly patients to fear for their safety, it would likely produce a greater effect in an ordinary individual without such training.  The circuit court’s finding that a reasonable person confronted by Dennis would fear violent behavior and serious physical harm is supported by credible evidence.

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