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4th Cir. Upholds Detention of Marine for Facebook Threats

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Brandon Raub, a Marine, made some questionable Facebook posts in the summer of 2012. Some of his fellow Marines expressed concern and contacted the FBI. The FBI interviewed Raub, then local police obtained a temporary detention order to hospitalize him against his will. He remained in hospital for seven days.

Raub filed a civil rights complaint, which the district court dismissed due to qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Just Some Threats and Rants

What did Raub write on his Facebook page? Some "increasingly threatening" things, such as "This is revenge. Know that before you die" and "The Revolution will come for me. Men will be at my door soon to pick me up to lead it ;)" as well as "I'm gunning whoever run the town."

Raub's fellow Marines assured the FBI that he genuinely believed this stuff and wasn't looking for attention. When the FBI came calling, Raub questioned them "about their knowledge of government conspiracy theories," including the popular "9/11 was an inside job" theory and the government exposing citizens to thorium (which is a new one to me).

The FBI agents, concerned that Raub might be psychotic (and none too pleased he had access to weapons), phoned a mental health "prescreener" who recommended the agents bring Raub in for an evaluation. On the ride to the screener, he continued to talk about how "the revolution is coming." The mental health screener concluded that Raub be held involuntarily, which he was -- until a court ordered him released, finding the petition "devoid of any factual allegations."

Qualified Immunity Makes Sense

So, did the FBI agents do anything wrong? Even if they had violated Raub's First and Fourth Amendment rights, they were in any case covered by qualified immunity, which allows state officials to escape liability for civil rights violations if they acted reasonably in light of clearly established legal rules.

While the Fourth Circuit didn't articulate exactly what standard of evidence a mental health evaluator would need to detain someone, the court said that was immaterial. Ample evidence supported the officers' actions and the mental health counselor's recommendation that Raub be held involuntarily, including the FBI agents' descriptions of his behavior, the statements of the Marines, the Facebook posts, and the counselor's own interview with Raub, the Fourth Circuit said.

Nor did the court find that Raub's detention was retaliation for exercising a First Amendment right. But the court didn't even need to get to the substance of the First Amendment claim, finding that even if some of his rants were protected, ample evidence outside of the posts supported his involuntary detention.

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