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Can Authorities Be Held In Contempt For Suicide?

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LANSING (WWJ/AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that will determine whether the Kent County Sheriff’s Department can be held in contempt for failing to prevent a suicide.

The case centers around Stephen Bradley, who fatally shot himself in 2004. Days before Bradley’s death, his sister, Nancy Mick, obtained an order from the probate court requiring that Bradley be taken into custody for psychiatric evaluation before he harmed himself or others. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department, however, did not follow the order, and Bradley killed himself.

An internal investigation, which Mick requested, concluded that the sheriff’s department was negligent in its handling of the pick-up order and had not executed the court’s order “in the manner that mental health petitions normally are handled.”

Bradley’s estate first filed a wrongful-death action against the sheriff’s department, but the circuit court dismissed the lawsuit on the basis of governmental immunity. The circuit court concluded that Mick could not establish that the sheriff’s department was grossly negligent or that the department’s negligence was “the” proximate cause of Bradley’s death.

Mick then filed a petition in Probate Court seeking compensation and asking the court to find the sheriff’s department in civil contempt for its failure to execute the court’s order. As a result of the department’s failure to execute the order, Mick asserted, she “suffered and continues to suffer damages, including, but not limited to, all of those damages set forth in the Michigan Wrongful Death Statute.”

The sheriff’s department sought dismissal of the suit, saying it’s immune under Michigan law and can’t be pursued with a contempt petition. A Kent County judge agreed, but the state appeals court sided with Bradley’s family.

The Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday.

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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