Health and Police should work closer to help mentally ill patients

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by Lagi Keresoma

APIA: WEDNESDAY 31 JULY 2013: Given the lack of facilities at the national hospital the authorities should define how and when mentally ill patients are kept in prison while receiving treatment.

That’s the recommendation of District Court judge Vaepule Vaemoa Va’ai after an inquest into the death of Perry Gam Tuilaepa.

Tuilaepa who suffered from schizophrenia died 19 November 2011 at Tafaigata Prison, aged 21.

On 8 November 2011 his sister and an uncle took him to the mental health unit at Tupua Tamasese Meaole (TTM) Hospital as he had become violent and they did not feel safe around him at home at Saoluafata.

But Tuilaepa was transferred to Tafaigata Prison because the hospital did not have suitable facilities to keep mentally ill patients while undergoing treatment.

On 20 November Justice Va’ai ordered a post mortem and an inquest.

An autopsy was conducted at Apia Mortuary by Dr. Katherine While, a pathologist from New Zealand on 21 November 2011.

At the end of the inquest Judge Va’ai delivered on 12 July 2013 a formal coronial ruling that the cause of Perry Tuilaepa’s death was hanging by suicide.

He said then that an addendum or additional information will be prepared to provide relevant background and reasons for his ruling.

The addendum was issued on 12 July 2013.

Strip - Maota

A Police investigation raised the possibility that Tuilaepa’s death might have been a result of foul play.

He had had a fight with a prisoner several days before his death.

The investigator Sergeant Junior Tofilau was suspicious because the deceased was found hanged in his cell but his feet were on the floor though his buttocks did not touch the floor.

Sergeant Tofilau also criticised lapses in supervision of the prisoners by two policemen who acted as prison wardens at the time of Tuilaepa’s death.

However the judge stated in the addendum:

“In my respectful opinion, the evidence I heard during the Inquest into the death of Perry Gam Tuilaepa supports the finding that the deceased died from hanging.  Further, the evidence does not support a finding that the hanging in this case was a result of or involved foul play.”

He recommended that until the custodial facilities at TTM Hospital for mentally ill patients exist, “the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health which is responsible for administering treatment and the Police Department is responsible for running the prisons should work a lot closer on defining guidelines on how and where mentally ill patients are kept in prison while receiving treatment.”