This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of:
Cortez Coleman, d.o.b.: 11-30-1968.
Filed October 12, 2004
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-P4-03-60244
Allan R. Poncin, Wells Fargo Midland Building, Suite 550, 401 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant Coleman)
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, John L. Kirwin, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent Hennepin County)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges his commitment for an indeterminate period as mentally ill and dangerous, contending that (a) the finding that the assault was the result of his mental illness rather than his antisocial personality disorder was clearly erroneous; and (b) his conduct did not constitute an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another as a matter of law. We affirm.
At the time of the assault that led to Cortez Coleman’s commitment as mentally ill and dangerous (MI&D), he was under a commitment as mentally ill and was residing at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC). Dr. Hiem Dam, his treating psychiatrist at AMRTC, diagnosed Coleman with schizophrenia paranoid type. The security hospital later diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Both also diagnosed him as suffering from antisocial personality disorder.
Coleman has a history of many incidents of aggressive and assaultive conduct dating back to the early 1990s. As the district court found, there was a recent escalation in his verbal and physical aggression. He engaged in two incidents of intimidation in June; three incidents of verbal abuse in June and July; an unprovoked assault against a male patient and an act of swinging his fists at staff in July, requiring that they physically restrain him and medicate him; and an incident in which he chased a staff member down the hall and threatened to kill that person in August.
The assaults that led to Coleman’s MI&D commitment occurred on September 6, 2003. At about 2:30 p.m., he approached a nursing station and asked for permission to go for a walk. Human services technician Kathy Koury told him it was not one of his scheduled times for a walk. Coleman became loud and disruptive, yelling at Koury and slapping the desk. The charge nurse, Ann Hagman, who was pregnant, came out of an adjoining room to confront Coleman. He responded by vaulting over the nursing station desk, kicking Hagman in the arm, and swinging his fists at her. While Koury yelled at Coleman to stop, Coleman became angry and advanced on her. Koury testified she was extremely afraid because she was backed into the corner with no way to escape and Coleman appeared to have “kill in his eyes.” He kicked towards her head, but she blocked the kick with her elbow, bruising it.
Another employee, Jodi Solen, then pushed the pregnant Hagman to an adjoining room to protect her. Solen yelled at Coleman, who turned and advanced on her, grabbed her and pushed her to the ground. Coleman then went after Hagman in the adjoining room. Hagman tried to close the door, but Coleman blocked her, pushing the door and trying to get in. While Coleman and Hagman struggled over the door, other staff members arrived and persuaded him to leave the nursing station. A show of force was needed to place him in seclusion.
Hagman and Koury suffered bruises from the attack. Hagman testified that it was completely unexpected and happened very quickly, lasting approximately 20 to 60 seconds. Hagman and Koury stated that they had been assaulted by patients on several other occasions, as well as having been threatened numerous times, and felt qualified to evaluate the seriousness of an attempt or threat. They testified that Coleman’s assault was significantly different from the other times they had been threatened or assaulted and they believed that Coleman intended to cause them substantial bodily harm.
When confronted about the incident, Coleman showed no remorse and downplayed the attack, saying in effect that he only kicked them. The next day, he remarked about one of the victims that he “guessed she didn’t learn her lesson.”
Dr. Dam, appellant’s treating psychiatrist at AMRTC, testified that Coleman posed a clear danger to the safety of others. Based on the September 6 assault, he committed an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another. He cited Coleman’s aggressive, assaultive behavior, particularly the September 6 assault, and noted that these behaviors had occurred even in a hospital setting. Further, Coleman showed no remorse. Dr. Dam believed Coleman was likely to engage in such acts in the future, citing his past aggressive behavior, noncompliance with medication, and lack of insight into his condition. He concluded the September 6 assault was a combination of both his psychotic thinking as well as his antisocial character.
The court-appointed examiner, Nadia Donchenko, expressed the opinion that Coleman met the standards for commitment as MI&D as well. She cited his past behavior of aggressive actions and verbalizations. She explained that his mental illness is part of the cause of his conduct. She did not believe his antisocial behavior was wholly responsible for the September 6 incident but explained that it could complicate treatment. While noting that Coleman did not make delusional statements at the time of the assault, after he was transferred to the security hospital, he denied being involved in the assault and asserted it was a case of mistaken identity. She explained his behavior was better described by his diagnosis as mentally ill rather than his antisocial personality disorder.
The district court committed Coleman as mentally ill and dangerous. After a review hearing, the court made his commitment indeterminate. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
In reviewing a commitment, the appellate court is “limited to an examination of the trial court’s compliance with the statute, and the commitment must be justified by findings based upon evidence at the hearing.” In re Knops, 536 N.W.2d 616, 620 (Minn. 1995). Findings will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. In re McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d 621, 623 (Minn. 1995). Whether the evidence is sufficient to meet the standards for commitment is a question of law considered de novo. Knops, 536 N.W.2d at 620.
A person who is mentally ill and dangerous to the public is defined as one:
(a) who is mentally ill; and (b) who as a result of that mental illness presents a clear danger to the safety of others as demonstrated by the facts that (i) the person has engaged in an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another and (ii) there is a substantial likelihood that the person will engage in acts capable of inflicting serious physical harm on another.
Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 17 (2002).
The district court found, in relevant part, that as a result of his mental illness, Coleman presented a clear danger to the safety of others as shown by the fact that he engaged in an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another.
Coleman argues that there was no clear and convincing evidence to support the district court finding that his assaultive behavior on September 6 was the result of his mental illness. Instead, he claims the evidence shows that it was the result of his antisocial personality disorder, and that consequently, his commitment as MI&D should be reversed.
To be guilty of a misdemeanor or felony assault, a person does not have to be mentally ill. But the behavior of committing an assault is compatible with and may be one symptom among many of being mentally ill. Here, both Dr. Dam, Coleman’s treating psychiatrist, and Dr. Donchenko unequivocally stated, even upon cross-examination from Coleman, that the mental illness as well as the antisocial personality disorder contributed to Coleman’s conduct. There was clear and convincing evidence to support the district court’s decision that as a result of his mental illness, he presents a clear danger to the safety of others as shown by his overt act on September 6, 2003.
Next, Coleman contends that he did not commit an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another. He argues that on the undisputed facts, the September 6 incident was not an overt act of such dangerousness as to permit his commitment as MI&D, because he did not seriously harm or attempt to seriously harm the staff.
as mentally ill requires a showing of “a substantial likelihood of physical
harm to self or others,” as demonstrated by a failure to obtain necessities
or “a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others.” Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a)(1),
(3) (emphasis added). In contrast,
commitment as MI&D requires a showing of “a clear danger to the safety of
others,” as demonstrated by a showing that “the person has engaged in an overt
act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another,”
and is substantially likely to do so in the future. Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd.
17(b) (emphasis added). The person’s intent or the outcome of the action is not relevant to the determination of whether the conduct meets the overt act requirement. In re Jasmer, 447 N.W.2d 192, 195 (Minn. 1989). Further, it is not necessary that “mayhem and murder” occur, and less violent conduct may meet the statutory standard. In re Kottke, 433 N.W.2d 881, 884 (Minn. 1988).
The supreme court has cautioned, however, that courts must pay due respect to the distinction between the “physical harm” required for an MI commitment and the “serious physical harm” required for an MI&D commitment. Kottke, 433 N.W.2d at 884. In that case, Kottke had struck one security guard with a slightly closed fist, leaving red marks on his face, and struck another security guard with both fists, causing the latter to fall and sprain his thumb. Id. at 881-82. An expert testified that Kottke’s pattern was to lash out ineffectually and then retreat and resume his mild demeanor. Id. at 883. The supreme court held that Kottke’s conduct neither inflicted nor was intended to inflict serious physical harm of the type contemplated by the MI&D statute. Id. at 882.
Coleman contends that his conduct, which merely caused a bruise to two of his victims, was comparable to Kottke and, thus, was insufficient to meet the standards for commitment as MI&D. However, the district court found here that one of his victims testified that Coleman’s level of violence now was substantially greater than in the past and she believed he intended to cause her serious physical harm. The thrust of her testimony was that she knew him from past admissions and had seen him threaten and intimidate before and, in this case, the threats and intimidating acts had escalated. Other testimony pointed out that this present assault was more frightening because of Coleman’s intense and menacing appearance. Coleman continued with his assaultive behavior until interrupted by the yells of others, and he still needed a show of force to place him in the seclusion room. The facts are supported by the record and provide clear and convincing evidence that Coleman engaged in the requisite overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another.
The district court’s decision committing Coleman as mentally ill and dangerous for an indeterminate period is affirmed.