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Taser failed to subdue mentally ill man before he jumped three storeys to death

April 12, 2016 - 4:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - The officer in charge of a tense scene involving a psychiatric patient who later fell from Royal Inland Hospital’s parking structure said an RCMP constable's Taser failed to subdue the 18-year-old man.

Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr was the fourth officer to attend the hospital on June 15, 2014, the day Jacob Setah escaped from the psychiatric ward and died after falling from the nearby three-storey parkade. He is one of more than 30 witnesses to testify in a three-day coroner’s inquest today, April 12.

Upon arrival, Buxton-Carr said Setah was clearly in crisis and found two other officers along with hospital security personnel observing a shirtless and bleeding Setah standing on top of a vehicle after he smashed its windshield. He then switched between standing on top of the car to standing on the ledge where he would spread his wings like a bird and say he was God, Buxton-Carr said.

“My first thought was okay this is very serious,” he said. “It can be very difficult to communicate with someone in crisis."

Buxton-Carr says he let Cpl. Jana Starr lead negotiations with Setah. He said she spoke to him in a soft voice to establish rapport. After noticing Setah appeared agitated by security personnel, he asked hospital staff to move back. Officers also worked to determine the object in Setah’s hand, which they first thought was a screwdriver and later found out was a pencil crayon.

While observing the mediation, Buxton-Carr sent another officer to the psychiatric ward to try and find out more about Setah’s medical history or see if a psychiatrist would be available to come to the scene to try and mediate. He called the officer who worked with the Car 40 mental health unit to come in as a mediator and attempted to get a K9 unit to the scene in case Setah fled the parkade but none of those resources were available. 

Buxton-Carr described how officers coaxed Setah from the ledge by offering him cigarettes, which he requested. Each time Starr offered him one, Buxton-Carr said Setah would get down from his ‘perch’ and retrieve it from the officer before returning to his spot.

But on the third exchange, Buxton-Carr said Const. Nathan Poyzer decided to deploy his Taser to try and subdue Setah and take him into custody.

“As he came close to the officers, it did seem like a highly fruitful tool in terms of control and to apprehend (him). This was the best opportunity we had and the only tool available to us to prevent (him from jumping)," he said.

However, Setah was never incapacitated by the device. Buxton-Carr said the Taser failed and the youth was either quickly knocked down and got back up again or was never taken down at all. When the Taser was deployed, Buxton-Carr said he wasn’t watching; he was taking notes. By the time officers tried to ‘put hands on (Setah)’ it was already too late.

“Jacob (Setah) didn’t climb up onto the ledge and stay there. He vaulted off of the ledge and jumped,” Buxton-Carr said.

He recommends there be more communication between workers in the mental health community and police.

“Going forward out of this, I think (we need) perhaps improvement or contingency plans between our agency and the psychiatric agency for a similar event,” he said in his recommendations to the jury. "There is a role for us, a very big role for us at the table. But it’s extraordinarily difficult to be not only present but to be effective in dealing with mental health crisis."

He added officers are trained to deal with mental health cases, which have increased substantially, particularly in Kamloops, he said.

"We’ve gone from being a mental health agency of last resort to the first resort,” he said.

Following the officer’s testimony came the evidence from one of two nurses who tended to Setah before he fled from one-south, the hospital’s secure psychiatric ward.

Tammy Ellwyn said on the day of Setah’s death, he was calm and not aggressive. He was concerned other patients were allowed to get day passes, she said, and asked why he wasn’t allowed to leave the ward.

“He was very pleasant, polite, interactive. I seem to recall him interacting with the patients quite nicely,” she said. “He was just bored."

To alleviate his boredom, the nurse said she gave him a pen and a journal after he indicated he wanted to write songs. She also gave him pencil crayons to draw and colour a picture he made.

While Ellwyn characterized Setah’s behaviour as relaxed, her concerns increased when he spoke of vampires and his plans to kill one to prove they exist. She also noticed he had drawn tattoos, including a pentagram on himself with the pen and after she checked his arm to see if the object broke his skin, Ellwyn says Setah threatened to call the police on her.

Ellwyn says she noticed Setah get up out of his chair after finishing dinner, walk across the room and start to bolt down the hall.

“I thought he was teasing me,” she said.

But once Setah escaped the security guard, he darted into an interview room, broke the glass window and escaped the ward, she said.

“I was worried he was going to bleed out on me. I went running out there and he was nowhere in sight. He was gone. I was so afraid. It was so quick,” Ellwyn said through tears on the stand.

Rodrick Mackenzie, counsel for the inquest, asked Ellwyn what sort of security features the ward had. She said there was a guard and a red button, which would lock all access to and from the ward.

“We don’t use the red button anymore,” she said. "There’s no lock. They let them run now. I don’t know what to agree with anymore. I’m afraid that (patients will) hurt themselves,” she said.

Ellwyn said she doesn’t know what system would work better — locking patients into the ward where they could hurt themselves and staff or letting them go which would allow them to run in public areas of the hospital and potentially escape, which would lead to a police call.

“Honestly I’m not so sure. After this happened, I wanted them to put glass in and bigger guards. I’ve been there when a patient chased us around a nurses station. It can get pretty violent. I’m not sure I want to get locked in with someone either,” she said. “I’ve had patients protect me from other patients because they’ve tried to attack nurses."

The inquest is set to continue until the end of tomorrow, April 13, when the jury will make its deliberations. Their objective is to classify the death as accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined. Jurors may also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

To read more on the inquest, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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