Austin G. Deeds, son of Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds, was 24-years-old when he took his own life. The family brought a wrongful death suit in a Bath County Circuit Court against defendant Michael Gentry. The defendant had previously been employed as a mental health worker at the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board (RACS). The RACS serves those struggling with mental health concerns, developmental impairments and addiction in Rockbridge and Bath County. Mr. Gentry was alleged to have been liable for allowing Deeds to leave a hospital in an unstable emotional state and the case was settled for $950,000.
Emergency Custody Order
Austin had earlier attacked his father, who became very concerned and pursued an emergency custody order. The order granted permission for Gentry to locate an available bed at a mental health facility. The state law at that time allowed the agency to hold Austin in custody for a six-hour period before he would be legally permitted to leave. Mr. Gentry claimed to have contacted dozens of facilities during that time but was unable to locate an available bed. Austin left the facility after the time period had elapsed; meanwhile, Gentry intended to resume his search the following day—but Deeds had already committed suicide. State investigators found that Gentry had contacted only a few of the facilities that he claimed he had.
New State Laws
Senator Deeds first filed the claim against the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health; however, a judge found that the agency was shielded from liability through the sovereign immunity doctrine. Ultimately, the settlement amount agreed upon in the revised claim will be paid by the Virginia Treasury Risk Management Fund. Since the details of this case have surfaced, the state has improved some laws regarding emergency custody orders for the mentally ill. Following the case, Senator Deeds explained that no amount of money can overcome the loss of his son.
Probable Cause for Emergency Custody Order
The state's code explains that the court may order emergency custody when a “sworn petition” is received by any responsible party, a doctor, or by a magistrate's own motion if probable cause exists relating to the following:
- An individual had a mental condition and may be a physical risk to the welfare of himself or other
- The individual appears to lack the ability to protect himself or maintain his human needs
- Is fit to be hospitalized
- He is unable or unwilling to commit to a hospital for treatment
In addition to a petition from a responsible party the court may also consider:
- The opinion of a medical doctor or psychologist
- Prior actions by the individual
- Past medical records of prior history of mental health concerns
- Hearsay when it has relevance
- An affidavit received
Transportation & Evaluation
An individual who is subject to an emergency custody order is to be transported for an evaluation to assess whether temporary detention and hospital treatment are appropriate. Evaluations are to be performed by a mental health professional. The court may select a law enforcement agency to facilitate the process of placing the individual in custody and transporting them for evaluation.