PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A circuit judge correctly dismissed claims brought by a wounded South Dakota Highway Patrol sergeant against a schizophrenic man who shot him near Kimball and against the shooter’s mother, the South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled.
The five justices unanimously agreed with Circuit Judge James Power that Bonita “Bonnie” London of Pierre did not owe a legal duty to control or supervise her adult son and shouldn’t be subject to liability for his criminal conduct.
Donald London, who was 42 at the time, shot Sergeant John Koenig in the shoulder on January 7, 2015, outside of a rural Kimball farmhouse that belonged to Donald’s maternal grandmother. London was convicted of aggravated assault. Koenig and his wife, Karen, later sued Donald London and his mother.
Justice Mark Salter wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion upholding the judge’s decision to dismiss the Koenigs’ claims.
Donald London originally was from the Kimball area. He moved to Pierre with his mother after his parents divorced. After finishing high school, Donald moved out of state. He returned to South Dakota in December 2014 to visit his family and because his grandmother was ill. His father, Mike, lived at Kimball, while his mother lived at Pierre. He stayed alone at his grandmother’s Kimball farmhouse. His mother was in Sioux Falls helping care for his grandmother.
Donald’s wife had died three years earlier. After that, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Wrote the justice, “As a result of his mental illness, Donald’s thoughts can become detached from reality and, at times, they have included his belief that his deceased wife is alive and being held captive by various law enforcement or intelligence agencies.”
Donald was in trouble with local law enforcement in the days prior to the January 7 standoff. On January 5, he got into an altercation at a Kimball bar and had truck trouble. Officers found him and released him to his father, who took him to his grandmother’s farmhouse. The next morning, local law enforcement went to the farmhouse where they found him holed up in the basement with several firearms. The guns were locked into a safe and he was released again to his father.
There was a plan for Mike to take him to Sioux Falls for a mental health evaluation but he instead received an evaluation in Mitchell. He was scheduled for a follow-up six days later. He was returned to the farmhouse.
On the morning of January 7, Brule County Sheriff Darrell Miller spoke several times with Mike London about Donald’s condition. Between those calls, Donald spoke with Bonnie as she drove from Sioux Falls to Kimball. The Koenigs claimed that Bonnie agitated Donald by telling him federal ATF agents were coming. Bonnie denied she said that.
Donald later that day told Sheriff Miller he planned to shoot two of the law enforcement officers who had been at the farmhouse for the January 6 incident. The sheriff contacted various other law enforcement agencies including the South Dakota Highway Patrol and arranged for them to send officers to the farmhouse.
At the farmhouse, Sergeant Koenig saw Donald, armed with a rifle, advancing toward another Highway Patrol trooper. Koenig ordered him to stop and drop the rifle. Donald did but then walked backward to a truck, got in and retrieved the rifle, then drove back to the farmhouse and took a position behind the truck.
Meanwhile Mike London warned Sheriff Miller there would be shooting and shouted to Donald to “shoot those sons of bitches.” Donald replied, “I’m going to die today. You’re going to die today,” and began shooting at the two Highway Patrol troopers.
A shot from Donald London hit Sergeant Koenig in the left shoulder blade. He was able to summon help. Donald surrendered 17 hours later.
Justice Salter wrote the Supreme Court decision agreeing with Judge Power’s decision to dismiss the Koenigs’ civil claims against Bonnie London.
Regarding their claim that she had a special relationship and a duty to control Donald, Justice Salter said, “Donald was a 42-year-old emancipated adult at the time of the shooting. He lived by himself out of the state and had not resided with Bonnie since high school. Donald was not the subject of a guardianship, and there were no restrictions on his movement or conduct.”
On their claim that her conduct — the allegation that Bonnie told Donald that federal ATF agents were coming — increased the risk of harm to Sergeant Koenig, Justice Salter wrote:
The idea that Bonnie made the statement about the ATF for the
express purpose of “light[ing] Donald’s fuse” and “agitat[ing]” his perilous mental
state in order to endanger law enforcement officers is simply unsustainable. The
undisputed facts indicate she spoke with Donald during a late morning telephone
conversation on January 7. Bonnie was not in Kimball and arrived at the
farmhouse later, in the afternoon. She had been in Sioux Falls during the events of
January 5 and 6, caring for her mother and unable to travel to Kimball due to
winter weather. To what extent she was aware of the details of the January 6
incident at the farmhouse where law enforcement officers removed guns from
Donald’s possession is unclear. But even if she knew all of the details, they still fail
to support the claim that Bonnie understood there was a foreseeable high risk that
Donald was actually going to shoot a police officer.
The Koenigs also alleged that Bonnie “undertook a gratuitous duty to supervise Donald through her involvement in his mental health care the day before the shooting and by arriving at the farmhouse before the shooting to help him.” Wrote Justice Salter:
In the end, the Koenigs essentially claim that Sergeant Koenig’s injury
could have been avoided if Bonnie had sought a higher level of mental health
intervention. However, this argument simply expresses a view of but-for causation,
not voluntarily assuming a duty to supervise another adult. Additionally, the
Koenigs have not cited any authority to support the view that a parent’s role in an
adult child’s mental health care creates a duty to supervise the child, and
compelling policy reasons counsel against accepting their argument here.
The full December 22 decision can be read here.