Wife claims her husband spoke to demons, stockpiled guns. After 14 days, he got his guns back.
A Florida man found himself stripped of his Second Amendment rights and his sanity investigated after his estranged wife claimed he spoke to demons, obsessed over the apocalypse, and was stockpiling guns and ammunition. The strange case highlights the shortcomings of Florida’s “red flag” law, designed to stop individuals who appear to be mentally unstable from starting a mass shooting. The red flag law was created in response to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high School in Parkland.
Joanie Morgan claimed her husband Kevin Morgan was “depressed, suicidal, and obsessed with the apocalypse,” according to the online outlet Reason. She also claimed her husband abused prescription drugs and spoke about killing his ex-wife with succinylcholine, a paralytic drug. After Joanie told police Kevin was stockpiling firearms and ammunition, she was able to secure a temporary domestic violence protection injunction. Kevin was also ordered to take an involuntary psychiatric evaluation order under the Florida Mental Health Act, commonly known as the Baker Act. As Florida’s red flag laws are aimed at preventing people who appear to be mentally unstable from carrying out mass shootings, Kevin’s firearms were temporarily taken away from him until he was evaluated further by psychiatrists and had a hearing in court.
Under the Baker Act, an individual can be forced to undergo an evaluation at a hospital or mental health facility if he or she is suspected of having a mental illness or substance abuse problem. An involuntary examination can be imposed on the person if he or she is suspected of intending to cause serious bodily harm to himself or herself, or to other people in the near future.
Though the Baker Act allows people to be put into a facility for an evaluation against their will, the committed still have rights. Patients affected by the Baker Act have rights to individual dignity, right to express and informed patient consent, a right to report abuse, and other rights that protect their wellbeing.
In Kevin’s case, mental health evaluators did not find credible evidence that he posed as a threat to himself or anyone else, describing his behavior as “compliant” and his mood as “stable.” Evaluators did not find any behavior that supported Joanie’s claims that her husband spoke to demons, that he was suicidal or that he wanted to kill his ex-wife. Psychiatrists determined Kevin did not meet the standards needed to keep him in a facility, leading to his release.
In addition to having her husband undergo an involuntary psychiatric evaluation, Joanie was also able to obtain a temporary domestic violence protection injunction. In an affidavit filed by a detective with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office that led to a circuit judge issuing an ex parte risk protection order against Kevin, Joanie alleges her husband violated a temporary domestic violence protection injunction by returning to their home. The estranged wife claims her husband retrieved “several firearms,” medication, clothing and his Ford Mustang.
An injunction for protection against domestic violence is one of five injunctions that can be issued for protection. In general, protection orders are issued by courts to prevent one individual from harassing or being violent to another individual. The person who has a protection order issued against them is legally not allowed to come into contact with the person the protection order is issued for. A protection order can be violated if the accused comes within 500 feet of the petitioner’s job, home, school and other areas the petitioner is known to frequent. Contacting the petitioner through the phone and internet can also lead to a violation of the protection order.
Anyone who has a protection order taken out on them has to give up their guns and ammunition too if ordered by the court, which Kevin was ordered to do. Curiously though, police found no evidence that Kevin had firearms at his home or that he returned there while his estranged wife had a protection order out against him. Kevin’s guns had been transferred before the risk protection order was issued, making it impossible for him or anyone else to retrieve firearms from the home.
Kevin had a hearing 10 days after the risk protection order was placed on him to see if there was any clear evidence that he posed a “significant danger” to himself or to others. According to audio recordings of the hearing obtained by Reason, Joanie delivered “tearful, highly emotional, scattered, and frequently vague” testimony. When attorneys asked if Joanie had any evidence or witnesses to support her claims that her husband abused prescription drugs, was obsessed with the apocalypse, or stockpiled firearms and ammunition, she had no evidence or eyewitnesses to support her claims.
The police said they had the never visited the house to confirm any of Joanie’s claims. For all Kevin had to go through – having a temporary restraining order taken out to keep him away from his home and family, undergoing an involuntary mental evaluation, and having his firearms confiscated – there was nothing presented in court to suggest he deserved any of it. Kevin’s attorney also pointed out Joanie planned on building a new house with him on property they recently purchased, and that she had left their children alone with him during the supposed time he had a mental breakdown.
Joanie and Kevin’s case is a perfect example of why people should have experienced legal counsel during protective order hearings. When temporary protection orders are issued, they are considered ex parte matters where the respondent does not have a chance to weigh in. The temporary order is good for 15 days. The court must schedule a hearing for a permanent order within 15 days before the temporary order expires. A permanent order can last for months, years or even indefinitely after a judge issues one.
Having an attorney who knows how to cross examine witnesses and question evidence like Kevin’s attorney can be the difference between having your freedom versus being forced to move out of your house and start your life over. Should Kevin have received a permanent order, he most likely would have not been able to return home and may have never had his Second Amendment rights restored. During the hearing, it is the petitioner’s responsibility to provide evidence why a permanent order is necessary. The evidence must show reasonable cause that the petitioner will be a victim again, and the evidence must be “strong and clear.”
From Joanie’s unsubstantiated claims, to Kevin being forced to undergo psychological evaluations and having a protection order taken out against him, this case shows that accusations that trigger red flag laws can upend the accused’s life without supporting evidence. Kevin said he paid his lawyer thousands of dollars in legal fees and was nearly tapped out of all his savings by the time he was finished fighting his wife’s accusations in court. “I was lucky to have a lawyer. I was lucky to be able to afford it,” Kevin told Reason.