ANNAPOLIS – A federal appeals court has ruled that Takoma Park police did not violate a woman’s rights when they took her from her home and committed her to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that police more than enough cause to detain Susan Peller when they were called to her house after a fight with her husband.
Mrs. Peller’s attorney, Mark McLaughlin Hager, said he may appeal the Jan. 15 decision.
The dispute began in May 1993 after a fight between Mrs. Peller and her then-husband in their Takoma Park home. The husband was not identified in court records and Mrs. Peller would not name him Friday.
Court records said the husband called police after the fight to ask for the number of a marriage counseling hotline, but was transferred to the 911 dispatcher instead. The dispatcher sent officers to the Peller home to investigate a possible suicidal person.
Police Officer Brian Rich, who responded to the call, said in his report that Mrs. Peller said “if not for her kids, she would end her life. She told me she would disappear by the end of the day.”
Mrs. Peller said Friday she never made those statements to what she described as a “rookie cop” and that she was simply distraught over the fight with her husband.
But police, who said Mrs. Peller appeared “very upset and irrational,” took her away in handcuffs to the Washington Adventist Hospital where she admitted for psychiatric evaluation.
She was released from the hospital two days later after a complete psychiatric examination determined she was “neither suicidal nor suffering from a mental disorder,” according to court documents.
“I have never been suicidal in my life,” Mrs. Peller said Friday. “If there’s any possibility that I can take this as far as I can, I will, because I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
Hager charged that Takoma Park police commit women as hysterical where they would jail a man in the same situation. He said police, when in doubt, should “err on the side of leaving her her liberty.”
But Daniel Karp, an attorney for the city, said police were acting in Mrs. Peller’s best interest. “If the police hadn’t acted and Mrs. Peller had killed herself, then there would be a different lawsuit,” he said.
Karp said Mrs. Peller’s contention that the standard for involuntarily committing people is unconstitutional is moot. Police must have a reasonable belief that someone is a danger to themselves before detaining them, but the appeals court found that police had probable cause, a higher standard, to detain her.
The appeals court decision upheld the ruling of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, which found for the city in a summary judgment.