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The Rutherford Institute Calls on Virginia Inspector General to Investigate Officials Responsible for Involuntary Commitment of Marine for Facebook Posts

The Rutherford Institute Calls on Virginia Inspector General to Investigate Officials Responsible for Involuntary Commitment of Marine for Facebook Posts

September 28, 2012

RICHMOND, Va.- Citing numerous procedural errors and alleging denials of due process, The Rutherford Institute has asked Virginia's Inspector General (IG) to launch an investigation into the government officials and agencies involved in having decorated Marine Brandon Raub involuntarily committed to a psych ward based solely on online postings of song lyrics, political messages and virtual card games to his private Facebook page. Having secured a court order for Raub's release one week after he was interrogated, arrested, detained and forcibly committed, Rutherford Institute attorneys are seeking to ensure that the incident is not repeated with Raub or other veterans. In filing a complaint with the IG's office, Institute attorneys allege that Raub was repeatedly denied the right to be evaluated by his own doctor and effectively precluded from preparing a meaningful defense to the commitment proceeding.

The Rutherford Institute's letter to the Virginia Inspector General is available here.

"What happened to Brandon Raub is all part of a larger trend in American governance whereby dissent is criminalized and pathologized, and dissenters are censored, silenced or declared unfit for society," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "While it doesn't help that the civil commitment system is significantly flawed, we need to ensure that government officials do not use it as a pathway-whether purposefully or inadvertently-to tread upon Americans' cherished civil liberties, especially their right to criticize the government."

On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, as well as Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub's home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions, as well as engage in virtual games. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will and beyond the time limits allowed. In a hearing on August 20, government officials pointed to Raub's Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. Ignoring Raub's explanations about the fact that the FB posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice sentenced Raub to up to 30 days' further confinement.

In coming to Raub's defense, The Rutherford Institute, aided by Troutman Sanders attorneys, challenged the government's actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub's First Amendment rights. On August 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub immediately released, noting that the government's case was "so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy." In their letter to the Inspector General of Virginia, Rutherford Institute attorneys allege that Raub was the victim of a serious abuse of Virginia's civil commitment statutes. Under these laws, a person may only be involuntarily committed upon clear and convincing evidence that he or she has a mental illness, and that there is substantial likelihood that the person will cause serious physical harm to himself or others in the near future. Furthermore, the determination must be evidenced by recent, actual behavior of causing, attempting, or threatening harm. The attorneys point out that if Facebook posts and other forms of expression like Raub's-which make no serious threats of harm to any person-can form the basis of involuntary civil commitment, then Americans no longer enjoy free speech.

Press Contact:
Nisha Whitehead
(434) 978-3888 ext. 604
(434) 466-6168 (cell)
[email protected]