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Threatening letter sufficient to prove dangerousness to others

Dodge County v. J.T., 2016AP613, District 4, 2/9/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The threats J.T. made in a letter provided sufficient evidence to find him dangerous to others under § 51.30(1)(a)2.b.

J.T. was committed under ch. 51 after he emailed a letter to various people saying Governor Scott Walker has to be “stopped” and “held accountable” and that “severe and immediate action is required.” J.T.’s letter also referred to his military training, said he was in his “jungle uniform” and “on a mission,” and that “they haven’t seen the likes of me explode in a long time. I will do whatever it takes to see this mission become successful.” (¶4).

J.T. concedes there was sufficient proof he was mentally ill and a proper subject for treatment, but argues there was insufficient evidence he was dangerous to others because the two physicians who testified at the commitment hearing didn’t opine that he was dangerous. (¶5). No need for that kind of testimony, says the court of appeals, as the circuit court applied the standard under § 51.20(1)(a)2.b., which says an individual is dangerous when he “[e]vidences a substantial probability of physical harm to other individuals as manifested by evidence … that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them, as evidenced by a recent overt act, attempt or threat to do serious physical harm.”

¶6    …[T]he circuit court did not rely on the physicians’ testimony for the finding of dangerousness (as J.T. himself concedes). Rather, it relied on evidence of threats by J.T. from which others may reasonably fear serious physical harm, as expressly provided by Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(a)2.b. Our supreme court has held that a threat can be reasonably inferred from statements that indicate impending danger or harm. Outagamie Cty. v. Michael H., 2014 WI 127, ¶¶16, 34, 36-37, 359 Wis. 2d 272, 856 N.W.2d 603 (finding that a jury could reasonably infer a threat of suicide from an individual’s statements that he was suicidal, though he could not explain what his plan was). J.T. does not dispute that a threat to harm others can be reasonably inferred from his statements here. His suggestion that expert testimony is required to support a finding of dangerousness is not developed with any support by legal authority; therefore, I do not consider it further. ….

J.T. also argues his threat was constitutionally protected as free speech and a petition to the government. (¶5). This argument comes too late (it was raised for the first time in his reply brief) and is undeveloped. (¶7).

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