FOLSOM, CA (August 18, 2020) — Yesterday, FPC's Legal team filed its response brief in the gun confiscation case of Folsom v. Coleman, where the City Police Department purports to know more about mental health than actual mental health professionals. The brief is available online at FPCLegal.org.
Imagine making a single sarcastic remark, in a moment of mundane human frustration, and as a result, being pulled over by the police, detained, and having your family’s firearm collection seized. Now imagine that after having been subjected to a mental health assessment, and it was determined that you are not a threat to yourself or anyone else – but in fact just said something regrettable in a moment of annoyance – that the local police still refuse to release your firearms collection and in fact file a petition for their forfeiture on the basis that your possession of those particular firearms poses a danger to yourself or others. Nevermind the fact that you have no criminal record and you’re not a prohibited person. Heck, you even have your concealed carry permit.
Simply put, there is no "but we really want to keep them" exception
to the statutory scheme, which would then allow the police to second-guess
the considered medical opinions of the doctors who actually assessed an
individual, and where they did not actually admit them for a § 5150 hold.
One might well understand that the police are prone to erring on the side of
caution in such circumstances that might justify an initial detention, but
when the outcome after the exercise of that caution resolves squarely in
favor of a person who simply made a single, careless, sarcastic yet very
human comment, as the Respondent did here, a police agency's simply
wanting to keep a person's property for no articulable reason is simply not
enough. -Brief filed in support of Mark Coleman
But wait, it gets worse. Now you have to hire a lawyer to represent you. On top of that, imagine you get your day in court, and at that hearing, the Judge agrees with you, and orders the local police to release your firearms back to you (and fortunately for you, even orders them to pay your legal fees). But instead of abiding by the Judge’s order, the City appeals the decision. This is exactly what’s happening to Mark Coleman.
Mark had been going to counseling to work on his ability to communicate in his marriage. He showed up for an appointment only to find out that it was at another location, about 20 minutes away. Just about anybody who has ever made a doctor’s appointment can understand the frustration of arriving at one location only to find out that you should have been at another. And this wouldn’t be the first time someone became annoyed and made a sarcastic comment to a clinic employee before leaving. Well, in Mark’s case that employee called the police. Shortly after that phone call, the police pulled Mark over and took him into custody. The police seized his firearms from his home and he was taken to a local hospital to be assessed by a doctor. After speaking with both Mr. Coleman and his wife, the doctor concluded, “[t]he patient is not an imminent danger to self or others at this time and does not meet the legal criteria for involuntary admission.” In fact, the doctor determined the sarcastic comment had been made out of frustration. Despite the medical expert’s opinion, the police filed a petition that would force the forfeiture of Mark’s firearms on the basis that he was a danger to himself or others.
Ultimately, the trial court agreed with Mr. Coleman’s position and denied the police’s Petition to permanently confiscate and destroy Mr. Coleman’s firearms. However, that didn’t stop the City of Folsom from pursuing its quest to deprive Mr. Coleman of his property, despite the fact that a qualified medical opinion directly contradicted the City’s position and police officers’ testimony, by appealing the trial court’s decision. Yesterday, Firearms Policy Coalition filed a brief on behalf of Mr. Coleman at the Court of Appeal. The arguments break down into three main issues.
First, the City argues that Mr. Coleman underwent a mental “evaluation,” which is a necessary requirement for them to permanently confiscate his guns. As the brief makes clear, Mr. Coleman never had an evaluation, he had an “assessment.” Evaluation and assessment each have their own distinct definitions and the difference is paramount.
Under the statute an “evaluation” takes place after an individual has been placed on a 72 hour psychiatric hold. By contrast, an “assessment” happens before an individual has been placed on a 72 hour hold, and is used to decide if a hold is justified in the first place. In order to be placed on a 72 hour hold, certain legal requirements must be met, and in Mr. Coleman’s case, they were not. The requirements for an assessment are much lower. They only require that a law enforcement officer have probable cause. The brief spells out exactly why Mr. Coleman had an assessment, and not an evaluation.
Second, the City argues that the trial court erred by refusing to conduct a live testimonial hearing, despite it having served a notice of intention to introduce documentary evidence (in the form of declarations of the police officers who interacted with Mr. Coleman) in lieu of live testimony. In other words, the City wasn’t planning on presenting the officers to testify at the hearing. The brief concludes that even if the court had erred by not holding a live hearing, that error was harmless, or put another way, it doesn’t matter. The court still had all of the evidence before it, and even had live testimony been taken, the City would still not have been able to meet its legal burden.
Lastly, the brief argues that the outcome the police are seeking, would lead to unconstitutionally anomalous burden of proof. In short, for the court to hold that the police had met their legal burden under the statute – and to permanently confiscate Mr. Coleman’s property – with nothing more substantial than the probable cause the police needed to hold him for the initial assessment, would be unconstitutional.
Gun rights are for everybody, even for those of us who say things in frustration that we might later regret. Despite the agreement of the doctor that assessed him and the trial court, that Mr. Coleman is not a risk to himself or others, and simply made an off the cuff remark, the City of Folsom is still refusing to give him back his property and actively fighting to keep it. That’s not how Constitutional rights work.
Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)(4) grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to advance individual liberty, restore freedom, and defend the People’s rights—especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a 501(c)(3) grassroots nonprofit organization. FPF’s mission is to defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges, and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms, through research, education, legal action, and other charitable programs.