Hospital Cleared In ‘Suicide By Cop’ Case

SALISBURY — The Maryland Court of Special Appeals this week ruled healthcare providers at PRMC could not be held liable for not admitting a man with mental problems, including suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, who was later shot and killed the same day in an apparent “suicide by cop” case.
In April 2009, family members brought Charles Williams, Jr. to PRMC for evaluation over concerns of his mental state after he allegedly was having suicidal thoughts and visual and auditory hallucinations. According to court documents, Williams also believed he was under a curse and exhibited other obsessive and unusual behavior. Williams was examined and evaluated at PRMC.
Although he was lucid and cooperative, Williams told healthcare providers he was experiencing hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. He also told his examiners he believed his ex-girlfriend had put a curse on him and that he experienced blindness when he looked at a text message sent from her while in the emergency room.
However, Williams refused to discuss the possibility of inpatient care and healthcare providers noted in their reports he “appeared to be minimizing any problems going on with him,” according to court records. After evaluating Williams, PRMC decided not to involuntarily admit him. Instead, he was diagnosed with insomnia, fatigue and bizarre behavior and was prescribed Ambien.
In addition, his mother was advised to remove any firearms from the residence and follow up the next day with the Lower Shore Clinic and return to the hospital immediately if the symptoms worsened. According to court documents, Williams was also told “to return here immediately if you feel you are going to harm yourself or anyone else.”
After leaving PRMC, Williams’ mother filled his prescription and they went to a nearby restaurant. Williams and family members later left the restaurant, but Williams asked his mother to pull over and he jumped out of the vehicle. Salisbury Police saw Williams later in the day and noted he was acting strange, but was doing nothing that would cause them to detain him.
Shortly after midnight, Williams broke into a house and the resident called 911. When police arrived, Williams was in the front yard wielding a knife. He allegedly said to the officers, “shoot me, [expletive deleted] shoot me, somebody’s going to die tonight.” He then held the knife to his throat and allegedly said, “I want you to shoot me. I want to die.”
Police told Williams to drop the knife and surrender, but he refused and charged at the officers. The officers shot Williams, but he persisted in the attack. Ultimately, the officers shot Williams 15 times and he died from the gunshot wounds.
Williams’ family later filed suit in Wicomico County Circuit Court alleging PRMC and the healthcare providers that treated Williams were negligent in not involuntarily admitting him. Citing a statute providing immunity for healthcare providers in involuntary admission cases, and also pointing out the family members had not been successful in alleging any facts to overcome the immunity statute, a judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.
Williams’ family then filed an appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The higher court this week concurred with the Wicomico judge’s interpretation of the statute.
“The complaint does not even allege, let alone provide facts to support the failure of the healthcare providers to act in good faith and with reasonable grounds,” the appellate opinion reads. “Instead, their primary concern is that the evaluations of Williams were simply bad judgment. Thus, even if the facts and allegations in the complaint were true, they would not afford relief to the family members.”