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Yelling and throwing “roll of tape” at father sufficient to establish dangerousness under Ch. 51

Kenosha County v. L.A.T., 2022AP1730, District II, 8/23/23, 1-judge decision ineligible for publication; case activity (briefs not available)

L.A.T. (“Linda”) convinced the court of appeals the circuit court erred by admitting and relying on hearsay testimony from a psychiatrist to support its dangerousness finding. However, the court holds that sufficient non-hearsay evidence established that “Linda’s pattern of anger and aggressive behavior that caused others to seek law enforcement assistance…was sufficient to establish that others were in reasonable fear of violent behavior and/or serious physical harm at Linda’s hands.” (Op., ¶3).

The main hole in Linda’s sufficiency challenge was that non-hearsay testimony, including her own testimony and admissions, supported allegations regarding three incidents in which others contacted law enforcement. First, with regard to an “October 2021 tape-throwing incident,” Linda and two psychiatrists testified that Linda’s initial commitment was, in part, the result of Linda throwing tape at her father, but “missing his head.” Second, in January 2022, Linda admitted to yelling at people at her nurse practitioner’s office, which resulted in the police being called. Third, in March 2022, Linda admitted that she argued with her father after she found him “looking at her confidential files” and that her father called the crisis line due to the argument. (Op., ¶¶20-34).

In addition to these prior incidents, Dr. Bales testified that Linda was paranoid and “lacked insight” into her mental illness. While Dr. Tasch testified that Linda did not pose a danger to herself or others, despite her anger issues, the court affirms the circuit court’s decision to credit Dr. Bales opinion over Dr. Tasch’s. (Op., ¶43).

In the end, the court agrees with Linda’s hearsay arguments but nevertheless disagrees that the admissible evidence was infufficient to establish dangerousness under the second standard through the “alternate avenue of dangerousness” set forth in § 51.20(1)(am). (Op., ¶47).

While it’s somewhat refreshing to see (1) hearsay properly objected to in a Chapter 51 final hearing and (2) properly ignored by the court of appeals (even if the circuit court allowed it and relied on it), the admissible evidence  regarding Linda’s dangerousness does not appear to be “clear and convincing.” That being said, the standard at issue here sets forth a fairly low bar under these specific facts: An individual is dangerous if she “[e]vidences a substantial probability of physical harm to other individuals as manifested by evidence of [] evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them, as evidenced by an [] overt act, attempt or threat to do serious physical harm.”  Wis. Stat. §§ 51.20(1)(a)2.b., (1)(am); see also Marathon County v. D.K., 2020 WI 8, 390 Wis. 2d 50, 937 N.W.2d 901. On three separate occassions Linda’s conduct led her father (twice) and a health care provider to contact law enforcement or a crisis line our of fear of Linda.

At the end of the day, while reasonable minds may disagree with the circuit court’s ultimate finding, the decision is a reminder that sufficiency of the evidence claims are not designed, regardless of recent Chapter 51 successes, to be friendly to appellants.

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