PITTSBURGH – A man sued state police, saying he was prevented from buying a hunting rifle after a background check erroneously showed he was a “mental defective” because of a mental health commitment that never occurred.
Jeffrey L. Burtner, of Butler, said the background check system wrongly indicated he was committed to Butler Memorial Hospital in June 1992.
Burtner hired an attorney who determined the only records the hospital has for treating Burtner were for a 2009 chest X-ray and a 2010 blood test and forwarded information to the state police that the hospital had no record of the commitment.
Burtner has never been involuntarily committed, attorney Joshua Prince wrote in the seven-page federal lawsuit filed Monday in Pittsburgh.
Burtner said in the lawsuit that a state police attorney told him he would have to sue to correct the information in the Pennsylvania Instant Check System.
State police spokeswoman Maria Finn said the agency doesn’t comment on litigation and won’t comment on why or how the police handle appeals when people claim background checks are incorrect.
Burtner wants the court to order the state police to declare that he has never been involuntarily committed, to declare that he isn’t prohibited from owning guns, to expunge all records from the allegedly erroneous background check and to pay his attorneys’ fees.
Burtner has an unlisted phone and his attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
According to the lawsuit, the series of events began when Burtner tried in May 2012 to buy the gun from Sportsman Supply Co., a gun dealer in his hometown about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.
When Burtner was turned down, he received a state police letter explaining that state law prohibits gun sales to “any person adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntary committed to any mental institution.” A second letter from the state police in July specified that his gun clearance was rejected because the state police had records showing he was involuntarily committed to the hospital on June 28, 1992.
Burtner hired an attorney in November who got the hospital to turn over its medical records, which were forwarded to the state police.
In February, the state police attorney emailed Burtner’s attorney confirming that the state police have “been unable to find any involuntary commitment documentation on Mr. Burtner but that Mr. Burtner would have to take legal action for the PSP to remove it from PICS,” the lawsuit said.