751 F.3d 542 (7th Cir. 2014), 12-2272, Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee

Docket Nº:12-2272
Citation:751 F.3d 542
Opinion Judge:Rovner, Circuit Judge .
Party Name:KRYSTA SUTTERFIELD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF MILWAUKEE, et al., Defendants-Appellees
Attorney:For Krysta Sutterfield, Plaintiff - Appellant: John R. Monroe, Roswell, GA. For City of Milwaukee, Jaimie Hewitt, Aaron Breken, James Floriani, Brandon Baranowski, Defendants - Appellees: Adam B. Stephens, Milwaukee City Attorney's Office, Milwaukee, WI.
Judge Panel:Before FLAUM, MANION, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges. MANION, Circuit Judge, concurring. Manion, Circuit Judge, concurring.
Case Date:May 09, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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751 F.3d 542 (7th Cir. 2014)

KRYSTA SUTTERFIELD, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CITY OF MILWAUKEE, et al., Defendants-Appellees

No. 12-2272

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 9, 2014

Argued October 25, 2012

Petition for certiorari filed at, 08/06/2014

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 11-C-0486 -- J. P. Stadtmueller, Judge.

For Krysta Sutterfield, Plaintiff - Appellant: John R. Monroe, Roswell, GA.

For City of Milwaukee, Jaimie Hewitt, Aaron Breken, James Floriani, Brandon Baranowski, Defendants - Appellees: Adam B. Stephens, Milwaukee City Attorney's Office, Milwaukee, WI.

Before FLAUM, MANION, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges. MANION, Circuit Judge, concurring.


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Rovner, Circuit Judge .

Krysta Sutterfield sued the City of Milwaukee and several of its police officers after the officers forcibly entered her home to effectuate an emergency detention for purposes of a mental health evaluation, opened a locked container, and seized for safekeeping the gun and concealed-carry licenses they found inside. She contends that officers violated her rights under the Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments in doing so. We conclude that the warrantless entry into Sutterfield's home was justified under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, as the defendant officers had a reasonable basis to believe that Sutterfield posed an imminent danger of harm to herself. We shall assume, as the district court did, that the search of a closed container for a gun, and the ensuing seizure of that gun, violated Sutterfield's Fourth Amendment rights. But we agree with the district court that even if the officers did exceed constitutional boundaries, they are protected by qualified immunity. See Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee, 870 F.Supp.2d 633 (E.D. Wis. 2012). We therefore affirm the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.


At around noon on March 22, 2011, Dr. Michelle Bentle, a psychiatrist at Columbia/St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee, placed a 911 call to report that Sutterfield had just left an outpatient appointment in her office after expressing suicidal thoughts.1 Milwaukee police officers Clifton Stephens and Timothy Powers were tasked to respond to the report. They contacted Dr. Bentle, who advised them that Sutterfield, after indicating that she had received some bad news, had remarked, " I guess I'll go home and blow my brains out." Dr. Bentle indicated she was concerned for Sutterfield's safety and that police intervention was warranted. She also informed the officers that Sutterfield had worn an empty gun holster to her appointment, from which she had surmised that Sutterfield owned a gun.

Over the next few hours, Stephens and Powers were unable to locate Sutterfield. They visited her home, knocked on the front door, but received no response. A neighbor advised them that Sutterfield had left her home that morning in her car and had not returned. The officers checked her garage and the street in front of Sutterfield's residence but did not see the type of car that her neighbor had described.

At 2:45 p.m., Dr. Bentle telephoned the officers to advise them that Sutterfield had called her some minutes earlier stating that she was not in need of assistance and that the doctor should " call off" the police search for her. According to the officers, Dr. Bentle did not indicate that Sutterfield no longer posed a danger to herself.

With the end of their shift approaching, Stephens and Powers prepared a Statement of Emergency Detention by Law

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Enforcement Officer (" statement of detention" ) pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes section 51.15. In relevant part, section 51.15 provides that a law enforcement officer may take a person into custody when he has cause to believe that the person is mentally ill and evidences " [a] substantial probability of physical harm to himself or herself as manifested by evidence of recent threats of or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm." § 51.15(1)(a)(1). The statute specifies a set of procedures that must be followed in effectuating such a detention. In Milwaukee County, the law enforcement officer must sign a statement of detention which, inter alia, " shall provide detailed specific information concerning the recent overt act, attempt, or threat to act or omission on which the belief under sub[sectio]n (1) [here, that the person poses a danger to himself] is based and the names of the persons observing or reporting the recent overt act, attempt, or threat to act or omission." § 51.15(4)(a). Signing such a statement knowing the information contained therein to be false is deemed a felony offense. § 51.15(12). Upon presenting the individual--along with the statement of detention--to an appropriate treatment facility, the treatment director of that facility (or his designee) must determine within 24 hours whether the individual should be detained for a period of up to 72 hours. § 51.15(4)(b). If the facility determines that the person does not meet the criteria set forth in section 51.20(1)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes to detain an individual for purposes of an in-patient mental health evaluation (the first step in the involuntary commitment process),2 the person must be released immediately. Id. If the facility director decides to detain the individual, the director may supplement in writing the statement of detention prepared by the law enforcement officer and include other pertinent information indicating that the individual meets the criteria for commitment; the director also must designate whether the individual is, inter alia, mentally ill. Id. The director must promptly file the original statement, including any supplement, along with a notice of detention, with the local probate court. Id.

The statement of detention prepared by Stephens and Powers documented the pertinent information that Dr. Bentle had shared with them about Sutterfield and noted their inability to locate her. Both officers signed the statement. At 4:00 p.m., Stephens and Powers went off duty.

Officer Jamie Hewitt of the Sensitive Crimes Division subsequently was assigned to locate Sutterfield. After spending several hours reviewing the paperwork, tracking down information regarding Sutterfield's automobile and having that information issued to Milwaukee patrol officers, and checking with local hospitals to see whether Sutterfield had been admitted, Hewitt and several other officers returned to Sutterfield's residence. Hewitt's intent was to execute the statement of detention if and when she located Sutterfield.

Arriving on Sutterfield's doorstep at approximately 8:30 p.m., Hewitt and the other officers found her at home. Sutterfield answered Hewitt's knock at the front door but would not engage with her, except to state repeatedly that she had " called off" the police and to keep shutting the door on Hewitt. Sutterfield would not admit Hewitt to the residence, and during the exchange

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kept the outer storm door closed and locked. Unable to gain admittance to the house, Hewitt concluded that the police would have to enter it forcibly. Consistent with police department procedure, Hewitt requested that a supervisory officer be dispatched to the house.

Sergeant Aaron Berken arrived at approximately 9:00 p.m. After Hewitt brought him up to speed on the situation, Berken knocked at the front door and identified himself as a police officer. As she had with Hewitt, Sutterfield opened the inner door of the house but not the locked storm door; she refused to admit Berken or any other officer into the residence. Sutterfield called 911 in an effort to have the officers leave; as a result of that call, the ensuing events were recorded by the emergency call center. Sutterfield can be heard on the recording telling the officers that she was fine and that she did not want anyone to enter her residence.

After informing Sutterfield of his intention to open the storm door forcibly if she did not unlock it herself, Berken yanked the door open and entered the house with the other officers to take custody of Sutterfield pursuant to the statement of detention. A brief struggle ensued. Sutterfield can be heard on the 911 recording demanding both that the officers let go of her and that they leave her home. (Sutterfield would later say that the officers tackled her.) Sutterfield was handcuffed and placed in the officers' custody.

At that point the officers conducted a protective sweep of the home. In the kitchen, officer James Floriani observed a compact disc carrying case in plain view.3 He picked up the soft-sided case, which was locked, and surmised from the feel and weight of its contents that there might be a firearm inside. He then forced the case open and discovered a semi-automatic handgun inside; a yellow smiley-face sticker was affixed to the barrel of the gun, covering the muzzle. Also inside the case were concealed-carry firearm licenses from multiple jurisdictions other than Wisconsin. Elsewhere in the kitchen the officers discovered a BB gun made to realistically resemble a Glock 29 handgun.

The contents of the case were seized along with the BB gun and placed into police inventory for safekeeping. Berken would later state that he authorized the seizure of the handgun in order to keep them out of the hands of a juvenile, should a juvenile enter the house unaccompanied by an adult while Sutterfield remained in the hospital. (The police knew that Sutterfield had a son, whom they believed to be a juvenile, although his specific age was unknown.) Floriani...

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