Utah Supreme Court justices are grappling with whether to hold a Logan therapist civilly liable for the shooting of a police officer because she told emergency dispatchers her suicidal patient was unarmed.
On Tuesday, justices heard arguments in the suit filed by Logan police officer Mark Robinson against the Mount Logan Clinic and therapist Charlotte Harris.
Robinson and another officer were called to the clinic on Oct. 4, 2002, to transport a suicidal patient to the behavioral health unit at Logan Regional Hospital.
While on the phone with dispatch, Harris was asked if the patient was armed, and Harris told the dispatcher that he was not. It wasn't until Robinson was actually in the room with the suicidal patient that he and the second officer discovered the man had a gun. During a struggle to disarm the patient, Robinson was shot in the foot.
Later, Robinson learned that Harris had several reasons to believe that her patient could be armed, including the fact that Robinson had a criminal history that included use of a firearm and domestic violence. There was an incident at the patient's home prior, where he waived waved a gun in front of his wife and children and threatened to kill himself.
The man also was known to sometimes keep a gun in his truck, and at the time of the incident said he needed to go to his truck. When asked by Harris if he had a weapon that day, the man refused to deny he was carrying a gun, saying "maybe I do, maybe I don't."
Robinson sued the clinic and Harris, charging that Harris had a duty as a therapist to be reasonably honest with police dispatch. A district judge, however, threw out the suit, ruling that under Utah law therapists only have a statutory duty to protect their patients and not law enforcement officials.
Robinson's attorney, Kara Porter, told justices Tuesday that a jury should decide if there was negligence stemming from Harris' statement to police dispatch that her patient did not have a gun.
Porter pointed out that given her patient's past with guns, Harris should have known there was a possibility he was armed and should have at least told the police dispatcher that he might be armed or say "I don't know."
The clinic's attorney, Dennis Ferguson, said Harris did tell the dispatcher that the man was suicidal. Ferguson said Harris did have information that could lead her to believe her patient had a gun, but "she had no actual knowledge of the gun."Justices took both arguments under advisement and will issue a ruling in the coming months.
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