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Suicidal Suspects and Special Relationships

Let’s talk about suicidal suspects or subjects and the special relationship doctrines. I know every situation is different and I appreciate that definitely facts change the answer.

It seems like nationally, actual best practice indicates that if you have a suicidal person that is not a danger to other people, they only present a danger to themselves and have barricaded themselves in a room, we should probably just not force an entry, we should not create a danger by forcing a confrontation. In many cases, they probably do have a weapon, whether it’s a knife, gun, and so forth.

I’m talking to people in LAPD, LA Sheriff’s Department, Las Vegas Metro, some very big agencies that look at these issues. And that’s what they’re doing, they are not forcing their way in. They would rather leave than force the confrontation.

Oftentimes, when you force the entry, it creates a suicide by cop. Whereas, you could just leave. Yes, some people do take their own life, but probably not as many as those who would actually have you do it for them.

However, I’m a little concerned about special relationships. Okay, let’s talk about it. Generally speaking, there is no duty by law enforcement to protect people from either themselves or other people.

However, you have to realize that there is a moral or ethical duty, oftentimes, to intervene. If you are, for instance, at a cafe on duty, you’re taking a break, but you’re on duty, you’re drinking your coffee and you see a person across the street getting carjacked. Should you get involved? Absolutely!

Do you have to get involved on threat of civil lawsuit? The answer is “no.” Because there’s no special relationship between you and that person and the rules have to be that way.

Otherwise, you’d be inundated with endless lawsuits about your lack of stellar performance, your negligence, your getting into an accident on the way to a call. They then sue you because if you would have arrived, you would have been able to help and so forth.

There’s two things I like to say about creating special relationships. Number one is that when the person is in your custody, they’re detained by you. Certainly, if you seize them, you kind of own them temporarily, at least right? That’s pretty easy. That’s not what’s going on here with a suicide call. Nobody is seized inside the house.

The other special relationship is where you do something affirmative and you create a foreseeable danger, right? A good example is, let’s say, you stop a car for DUI, the driver’s going to jail, the passenger is highly intoxicated, and you’re on the highway. And the off-ramp is like 1000 feet away, and the person says, “I’ll just walk off the ramp,” and you’re like, “Alright, go ahead.” The person stumbles into the highway and gets hit.

That, most likely, with those bare facts, is a special relationship. You had a legal obligation to ensure that the passenger was safe under those circumstances. Whether or not you still have a special relationship, if you’re on a city street, and the person’s on a sidewalk and you let them go down the street, we have to look at it, right? But the point is, sometimes officers do things that create a danger.

I’ll give you another example. In Chicago, police had a person detained, a female that got arrested at O’Hare. And they brought her down to the substation for disorderly conduct. They ended up releasing her at two o’clock in the morning. And the substation was in a very bad neighborhood. Sometimes you get some pretty bad neighborhoods in Chicago, and she ended up getting gang raped and jumped out a window, not to her death, but she became basically a vegetable for life.

So the court there also found that there was a special relationship. That by releasing her and not giving her a choice, but just kind of pushing her out the door at two o’clock in the morning in a foreign land, which created some kind of danger.

So you have to look at those things. But generally speaking, when you look at suicide calls, you’re not creating any danger, you’re not doing anything affirmative to increase their level of of injury, right? If they do it, it’s on their own.

However, there was a case recently this year out of Ohio. And basically what happened is an officer showed up because the family says, “Hey, we think grandfather is suicidal. And they contacted the grandfather, and they also saw that he had access to a gun. And I forget the exact details, but they were able to just seize this gun right then and there during this investigation, but they didn’t. They allowed grandpa to pretty much keep possession of the firearm at this time, and he ended up killing himself.

The court found that it was grossly negligent while investigating this suicide call to not even seize, temporarily at least, a firearm that you had lawful access to during the encounter. You have to look at the case, which I think is also based on Ohio law. This was not based on the the Fourth Amendment and due process and so forth. But you do have to be aware of things like that.

All right, that’s what I have to say about it. Again, it’s a very complicated topic. There are other people out there that are much better qualified to talk about legal liability issues than I am, but that’s my take on it. I hope it helps.

Keep the questions coming. These videos and transcripts are intended to help you get it right every single time.


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