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HOPEWELL, Va. -- The shifting fortunes of Marine veteran Brandon J. Raub moved in his favor Thursday after a Hopewell judge criticized his forced relocation to a veterans hospital in western Virginia for mental treatment and then ordered him released.
Raub's Chesterfield County family rushed to retrieve the nationally followed, Facebook-posting activist after the midday ruling.
Hopewell Circuit Judge W. Allan Sharrett found that a document ordering Raub's transfer this week from a Hopewell hospital to the Salem VA Medical Center was faulty and "so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy."
Raub, 26, was released from the Salem hospital shortly after 5 p.m.
The case raises anew concerns about Virginia's civil commitment proceedings for mentally ill people, proceedings that were overhauled after Virginia Tech mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho underwent a similar process that upon closer scrutiny was shown to be full of deficiencies and miscommunications between caregivers and the judicial system.
Raub's release follows a procedural error, the failure of a special justice to check off on a petition for involuntary admission to a hospital the elemental findings about Raub's mental condition. Sharrett likened the faulty order to an arrest warrant that lists no specific illegality.
The order was signed Monday by Special Justice W. Douglas Stokes, but the boxes on a form designating the nature of Raub's condition were not marked. Court files, however, show that Raub had undergone mental-health assessments shortly after being taken into custody Aug. 16 and was found to be mentally ill and a danger to others.
In addition, attorneys representing Raub on behalf of the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute argued that Raub was illegally detained last week because a Chesterfield magistrate failed to timely issue a temporary custody order to allow mental health experts an opportunity to assess Raub's mental state.
"Raub was the subject of an unlawful detention" and the involuntary commitment order" is based almost entirely on information and evaluations improperly obtained during that unlawful detention," lawyers Anthony F. Troy and Brian D. Fowler argued in court papers.
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Raub's case has exploded across the Internet, and the North Chesterfield resident has become a symbol of those who allege tamping down of free speech by the government.
"This is a great victory for the First Amendment and the rule of law," John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said Thursday after the decision. "Brandon Raub was arrested with no warning, targeted for doing nothing more than speaking out against the government, detained against his will, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys."
In a scenario that seems to touch almost every facet of arguments about government interference with free speech advocates, Raub was taken into custody last week after being approached by FBI and Secret Service agents, as well as Chesterfield police. On Monday, he was transferred to Salem, where the veterans hospital carries a reputation for treating stressed service members.
A video of Raub being detained and handcuffed outside his Bensley home Aug. 16 went viral on YouTube and other Internet sites. Radio talk shows celebrated his patriotic pleas on his Facebook page, and his theories of government conspiracies played to a wide audience.
The move 188 miles from his family and legal team, though, constituted a move to isolation, Troy argued.
Court documents made public Thursday, meanwhile, allege that authorities were alerted about Raub by his own friends who had grown concerned about his recent behavior.
Mental health assessment records of Raub describe him as delusional and paranoid in the days before he was transferred to Salem.
"Client believes that 9/11 was a conspiracy caused by the U.S.," states an assessment of Raub filled out by a Chesterfield County crisis intervention worker.
The worker saw Raub on Aug. 16 after he was picked up by Chesterfield police and transferred under an emergency custody order to John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell.
"Client met with the FBI and Secret Service to explain recent posts on Facebook. Client's friends reported client to the FBI for posting extreme conspiracy theories and threats to President Bush. This counselor asked client about why the authorities were involved and he stated because they know I am on to something."
Court documents spell out multiple concerns about Raub's behavior and describe him as agitated and distracted.
Raub's family and Rutherford Institute advocates are arguing that Raub's right to free speech has been violated and that they intend to file a civil action against those who detained him and ordered him confined.
Raub's mother, Cathleen Thomas, said Thursday that she has no fears that he is a danger to anyone. Thomas, described in court documents as siding with Raub's beliefs about government conspiracies, described the turn of events Thursday as "phenomenal."
"This could have happened to anyone. We're not about allowing wrongs like this to take place," she said. "This has never been about anything but freedom of speech. ... We're going to continue to post on Facebook."
Thomas said her son is a "true patriot" who gave up military benefits for a back injury so the money could go to another veteran.
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Raub, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was taken into custody Sunday after the FBI had received inquiries from people concerned about the nature of postings Raub had made on his Facebook page, a FBI spokesperson said.
Facebook postings by Raub generally involved impassioned pleas for a return to American ideals of freedom and independence but also speak of betrayal by elected leaders.
"Your leaders are planning to merge the United States into a one-world banking system," he wrote. "They want to put computer chips in you ... these men have evil hearts. They have tricked you into supporting corporate fascism. We gave them the keys to our country. We were not vigilant with our republic."
On Aug. 15, Raub posted that "the Revolution is here. And I will lead it."
Four days earlier, he had written: "I know many of you think I'm going crazy and are wondering just why I have been posting the things I have been posting. I don't have the energy to explain. Just know that a new beginning is coming."
On Aug. 4 he wrote, "I am standing against a great evil. I will do it all by myself if I have to."
Raub told the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the weekend that he served in the Marines from 2005 until 2011 and was a combat engineer sergeant. He said he operates a home-based silver numismatic-coin business.
On Thursday, outside the Hopewell Courthouse, Raub's younger brother Brett could hardly hold back his joy at Raub's imminent release.
His first act was to tweet a message to about 350 followers: "Brandon Raub is FREE."
And Kati Wood, Brandon Raub's girlfriend, her face marked with the words "Free Brandon Raub," summarized what had happened to a man she describes as "every woman's dream."
"He essentially was kidnapped," she said.