Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee, No. 12-2272 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
A psychiatrist, called 911 to report that Sutterfield had just left her office, indicating that she had received some bad news, and had remarked, “I guess I’ll go home and blow my brains out.” She informed officers that Sutterfield had worn an empty gun holster, from which she surmised that Sutterfield owned a gun. Officers were unable to locate Sutterfield. Hours later, the doctor told officers that Sutterfield had called minutes earlier stating that she did not need assistance, but did not indicate that Sutterfield no longer posed a danger to herself. Hours later, Sutterfield answered her door but would only state that she had “called off” the police. Officers concluded that they would have to enter forcibly. Sutterfield called 911. After informing Sutterfield of his intention to open the storm door forcibly, an officer yanked the door open and entered. A struggle ensued. Sutterfield can be heard on the 911 recording demanding that the officers let go of her and leave. Officers conducted a protective sweep and observed a compact disc carrying case in plain view. The soft-sided case was locked. An officer surmised from its feel and weight that there might be a firearm inside. He forced the case open and discovered a handgun and concealed-carry licenses from other jurisdictions. They also discovered a BB gun made to realistically resemble a handgun. They seized the guns and transported Sutterfield to a psychiatric hospital. Sutterfield sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court rejected the claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Warrantless entry was justified by exigent circumstances; even if the officers exceeded constitutional boundaries in searching the closed container and seizing the guns, they are protected by qualified immunity.