Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of:
Filed December 2, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. P98833054
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Peter J. Fransway, Assistant County Attorney, A-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent Minnesota Security Hospital)
Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant seeks reversal of his commitment as mentally ill and dangerous, contending his actions met the dangerousness standard only for commitment as mentally ill. We affirm because appellant engaged in overt acts causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another that met the standard for commitment as mentally ill and dangerous.
In 1990, while hospitalized at the VA, appellant attempted to strangle or strike a nurse. In 1994, he engaged in two assaults, including one in which he threatened a roommate with a knife. While hospitalized in 1996, appellant threw a chair at staff. There were also incidents of less serious aggressive behavior, including a fight with the Champlin police in 1996.
During his recent hospitalization at the St. Cloud VA, appellant often eloped and the police picked him up and returned him to the hospital. This occurred so frequently that the police chief wrote to the hospital and the court, asking that appellant be subject to tighter restrictions.
A petition for commitment as mentally ill and dangerous was filed in September 1996. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation and the testimony of the court-appointed examiner, the trial court committed appellant to the Minnesota Security Hospital as mentally ill and deferred the issue of dangerousness pending receipt of a report from the security hospital.
While at the security hospital, appellant did not commit any assaults. But he did intentionally burn himself with his cigarettes and once engaged in a verbal altercation with another patient that de-escalated only through staff intervention.
After an initial and final hearing, the trial court committed appellant to the security hospital as mentally ill and dangerous.
A mentally ill and dangerous person 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 (1996) (emphasis added).
The word "serious" in section 253B.02, subdivision 17(b)(i), is limited to the common understanding of the word. In re Kottke, 433 N.W.2d 881, 884 (Minn. 1988). The court must give due respect to the distinction between the "physical harm" required for commitment as mentally ill, Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(b) (1996), and the "serious physical harm" required for commitment as mentally ill and dangerous. Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 17(b)(i); Kottke, 433 N.W.2d at 882, 884 (holding two assaults with fists do not constitute serious physical harm). The court must examine the action without regard to the person's intent or the outcome of the action. In re Jasmer, 447 N.W.2d 192, 195-96 (Minn. 1989) (holding person's action in firing shotgun at neighbor but missing him met standard of serious physical harm).
Appellant argues that his conduct did not rise to the level of an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another. He contends the court relied on the cumulative weight of a number of incidents, rather than the seriousness of any one incident. Appellant also notes the same incidents were used to support his commitment as mentally ill. While he acknowledges that the 1994 incident in which he threatened his roommate with a knife, resulting in a second-degree assault charge, may have caused fear, he asserts he did not cause or attempt to cause serious physical injury. He alleges that the mentally ill and dangerous commitment occurred only because police and mental health officials ran out of patience with his frequent elopements and his failure to respond to treatment and wanted him confined at the security hospital.
We find no merit in appellant's arguments. As the trial court found, appellant engaged in overt acts causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm. The court cited the 1990 attempt to choke or strike a nurse; two assaults in 1994, including the knife incident; the 1996 incident in which he threw a chair at another while hospitalized; and the 1996 fight with police officers.
In assessing appellant's dangerousness at the initial mentally ill and dangerous hearing, psychologist Kristine Kienlen of the security hospital referred to his history of unpredictable agitation and unprovoked assaults both in the community and while hospitalized. At the final hearing, psychologist Gail Michaletz cited his significant history of very aggressive behaviors that resulted from his mental illness. She believed appellant's prior assaultive behavior put the lives of others at risk and described his actions as being very dangerous. While Michaletz noted that since being placed on her unit appellant has not been aggressive, she attributed this nonaggressiveness to appellant's new medication, which more effectively treats his symptoms, the greater number of staff, the structured setting, and his inability to elope.
While more remote incidents may not have as much predictive power as recent ones, in this case appellant continued until very recently to engage in dangerous, possibly life-threatening acts. See In re Hofmaster, 434 N.W.2d 279, 281 (Minn. App. 1989) (considering a 1977 stabbing incident in committing person as mentally ill and dangerous 11 years later). Further, the fact that the incidents also were used to support previous mental illness commitments does not preclude them from being considered for a mentally ill and dangerous commitment where appellant continued to be dangerous. See In re Lufsky, 388 N.W.2d 763, 764, 766 (Minn. App. 1986). Likewise, the fact that the VA was unable to control appellant and that the police department wanted steps taken to prevent appellant from continuing to elope highlights appellant's dangerousness and should not be characterized as weakening the basis for commitment as mentally ill and dangerous.
The trial court had clear and convincing evidence from which it could conclude appellant committed overt acts causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another.