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COA affirms initial commitment without specifying standard of dangerousness

Walworth County v. P.S., 2021AP2090-FT, 4/13/22, District 2, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court entered an initial commitment order against P.C. without specifying a standard of dangerousness. The court of appeals shrugged. It did not matter because the circuit court’s findings “were specific, tracked the statutory criteria, and are supported by the record.” Opinion, ¶10 n.2.

At the final commitment hearing, Dr. Bales testified that P.C. had schizophrenia and presented a danger to others. Allegedly, P.C. exhibited multiple threatening behaviors toward his father and “without help” would be unable to live with his father so he would go homeless. In addition, P.C.’s father testified to specific instances where P.C.’s conduct caused him to fear himself or for PC.’s own safety.

Here’s what the court of appeals held:

¶10 The record supports the circuit court’s determination that P.C. was dangerous under WIS. STAT. § 51.20(1)(a)2. Based on the testimony of the witnesses, the circuit court found that P.C. posed a danger both to T.C. and himself. The circuit court discussed T.C.’s testimony that P.C. pushed and tripped him, pushed books onto his head, and threatened to poison him multiple times. The circuit court also referenced T.C.’s testimony that P.C. would bang on T.C.’s locked bedroom door all night to the point of bloodying his fists. The circuit court discussed the harm P.C. posed to himself by referencing P.C.’s actions of going door to door in the middle of the night, scaring people in the early morning hours, and walking on dark county roads without reflective gear. The circuit court noted that P.C.’s excursions could have resulted in a scared resident confronting P.C. with a weapon. The circuit court found P.C.’s various behaviors consistent with Bales’s assessment that P.C. did not comprehend the need for treatment, had severely impaired judgment, and posed a legitimate danger to both his father and himself. The record supports the circuit court’s finding that there was clear and convincing evidence that P.C.’s untreated mental illness and his impaired judgment created a substantial probability of harm to himself or others.

Which standard(s) of dangerousness does the court of appeals think that the circuit court tracked? It actually doesn’t track the 1st standard. P.C. did not recently threaten or attempt suicide or serious bodily harm to himself. Maybe it tracks the 2nd standard. What if the county was aiming for the 5th standard based on Dr. Bales’s testimony that without treatment P.C. would go homeless? Then there’s a problem because the county has to prove P.C.’s incompetence to make treatment decisions and submit a treatment plan. The standard matters. And SCOW said the standard matters in Langlade County v. D.J.W., 2020 WI 41, 391 Wis. 2d 231, 942 N.W.2d 277.  The court of appeals doesn’t like the result so it ignores D.J.W.

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