Walker & Walker v Wilmington

Gerald Walker was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia in the late 1980s. From that time until July 2005 he received treatment from Connections (Connections Community Support Programs, Inc. improves the lives of vulnerable and disenfranchised Delaware residents by providing a comprehensive array of affordable and accessible primary medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment and housing opportunities to help them become accepted and productive members of their communities), and the Delaware Psychiatric Center for over twenty years. During that time he had delusions which required constant treatment. Before 2005 he was under involuntary commitment by the State of Delaware but as an outpatient.

Walker's mental state deteriorated and the final straw was that he believed if he has sex with his granddaughter their baby would rule the world. On July 11th, 2005, he told his wife of the delusion. Ms. Walker notified Connections who brought Walker in for evaluation. Afterwards it was decided that Walker was in need of in-house treatment. Walker refused to go with Connections staff to the hospital. They in turn contacted the Wilmington Police Department.

Officer Karen Buhrmann responded to the location and met with Mr. Hufford, a staff member of Connections. Hufford gave Buhrmann a copy of the commitment order and took her to Walker. Officer Buhrmann talked with Walker and explained departmental procedure that required that Walker would be handcuffed for transport. She spent 15 to 20 minutes trying to convince Walker to go along. Walker did not respond to her request.

Officer Buhrmann asked Hufford if Walker was likely to resist handcuffing to which Hufford responded he probably would. Walker was bigger than Officer Buhrmann so she called for backup. Officers Gordon and Ballard responded to her request. Officer Ballard told Walker that he was going to the hospital and asked him to cooperate with the officers. Walker was standing and told officers he did not want to go.

There is debate between the two parties as to what occurred next. Officers Burnham, Gordon and Ballard, stated they tried to talk Walker into going with them. They spent an additional 5 minutes with him. Officers Ballard and Gordon each grabbed one of Walker's arms. Walker in turn folded his arms to avoid being cuffed. The officers took Walker to the floor. Walker grabbed Ballard's head in a bear hug. Gordon struck Walker in the stomach, face, and chest. Walker was given an ultimatum: release or he would be pepper sprayed. Walker received doses from Officers Ballard and Gordon. Walker ceased resistance and was handcuffed. Walker was put into a police cruiser and he was taken to Wilmington hospital where he was checked for the after effects of the pepper spray. Officer Ballard was injured and was in need of treatment.

Ms. Walker and Walker countered saying that he gave no physical resistance nor did he threaten the officers. He never had Ballard in a headlock. Walker told the officers he did not want to go to the hospital. Officers threw him to the floor and his head hit a wall. He turned his body face down on the floor and his arms under his body. He never made any threats or harmed anyone. The officers beat him on the head, neck, arms, and back. At one point he believed that Officer Gordon had broken his (Walker's) hand. He (Gordon) then used a pair of handcuffs like brass knuckles beating Walker. The Walkers both said the only thing Mr. Walker said was why are you hitting me? and I do not want to go to the hospital.

The officers notified Sergeant Tom Kane that they had to utilize force to take Walker into custody. Kane responded to the hospital to investigate the use of force. Sergeant Kane interviewed the officers reference the use of force on Walker. Kane talked with Walker who said he had not wanted to go to the hospital, and that he was held down and punched in the face. (Alice Walker and Gerald H.E. Walker, v City of Wilmington, Wilmington Police Department, Officer Shawn Gordon, Michael Ballard, and Karen Buhrman, United States District Court for the District of Delaware, C.A. No. 06-366-JJF)

Kane went to Connections and interviewed Hufford. Hufford stated that when the officers attempted to handcuff Walker he resisted and put his hands under his body. Hufford did not say if there were any other witnesses or any other information.

Officers Gordon and Officer Buhrmann completed the necessary reports and Kane reviewed them. He concluded the use of force was within guidelines and not excessive. During the course of time Kane's report was lost.

On August 9, 2005, Walker underwent brain surgery to relieve a subdural hematoma. The plaintiffs contend the hematoma occurred on July 11th, 2005.

In subsequent litigation the Walkers agreed that the city's policies and procedures were sound, and that the city enforced its policies with having each use of force well documented. Furthermore the city sanctioned officers when the force was excessive.

However, the Walkers believed that the police department failed to investigate incidents properly. In their opinion with the failure to investigate, officers believed they were free to commit such offenses.

They believed that Kane's investigative report was missing due to Kane's failure to properly investigate the excessive force used by officers in this incident. A police expert D.P. Blaricom stated that the investigation failed to meet a reasonable standard of care in that Kane failed to properly investigate the use of force because his report could not be located. The city admitted that there had been thousands of reports of excessive force against officers. The city could only cite two cases in which officers were punished.

The court ruled that Sergeant Kane's investigation was adequate. He interviewed the parties involved took notes and based upon the findings the officers use of force not excessive.

The plaintiffs claimed a failure to train officers in dealing with mentally ill persons and the use of force. All officers involved recalled having been trained in that subject at the police academy. Each of the officers testified that they had dealt with and transported other mentally ill persons from hundreds of times to twenty times with only there only being three persons who resisted the transport. The training occurred at the police academy.

Dealing with mentally ill persons is part of a police officer's job. These are encounters that occur frequently in the course of one's duty. As with any arrest there will be occasions in which resistance will occur. In this case the officers reacted reasonably. The court reviewed the facts and circumstances and agreed that their course of action was appropriate. The officers and city were allowed summary judgment.