Day: February 11, 2020

Inquiry learns about gap in care for former soldier Lionel Desmond

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — A nurse who assessed Lionel Desmond two months before the Afghanistan war veteran killed his family and himself in 2017 says his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appeared to be getting worse during a period in 2016 when he wasn’t receiving any treatment.

Heather Wheaton told a provincial fatality inquiry Tuesday she met Desmond on Oct. 24, 2016 when he showed up with his wife Shanna at the emergency room at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., seeking help for a long list of complaints.

At the time, the mental health crisis clinician filled out an assessment form, noting the former infantryman was suffering from interrupted sleep, nightmares, loss of appetite, aggression towards objects, conflict with his wife and increasing anger, depression and anxiety.

As well, Wheaton noted that Desmond had paranoid ideas about his spouse, lacked concentration and was “not sure how to live as a civilian” since his discharge from the army in June or July 2015 — eight years after he served in Afghanistan.

Wheaton’s notes indicate Desmond received treatment at the Ste. Anne’s Hospital operational stress injury clinic in Montreal between June and August of 2016, but Desmond said there had been a two-month gap in follow-up treatment because of a snafu with the federal Veterans Affairs Department.

The inquiry has heard that after Desmond was discharged, he and his wife lived in New Brunswick, where a Veterans Affairs case manager supervised his ongoing care — but there was a gap in 2016 when Desmond returned to his home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

On Monday, a lawyer representing the attorney general of Canada told the inquiry that Desmond’s case manager was working on finding the services he needed in Nova Scotia, but there was some dispute over where he would have to go — Halifax or Cape Breton.

The gap in services is important because the inquiry is examining whether Desmond and his family had access to adequate mental health services.

The inquiry, which started hearings Jan. 27, is also investigating whether the Desmond family had access to domestic violence intervention services and whether health-care providers who interacted with the former corporal were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.

Wheaton, a nurse with more than 20 years of experience, told the inquiry she did not receive any formal training regarding domestic violence.

When inquiry counsel Shane Russell asked if that kind of training would be useful, Wheaton said she felt capable of making a proper evaluation by using a mental health assessment form.

“I believe that we evaluate the risk,” she testified. “(But any) information about domestic violence, specifically, I wouldn’t say no to. Any information that helps us to be more sensitive or more aware of things is welcome.”

The provincial court judge overseeing the inquiry, Warren Zimmer, asked Wheaton if the assessment has specific indicators regarding domestic violence or homicidal inclinations.

“If there’s a cue of any kind — if somebody has anger, for example — we would explore that fairly extensively with the person and ask for examples,” she testified.

“(It’s) with an awareness that if a person is going to act out violently towards another person, more often than not that’s going to occur in their intimate relationships.”

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond fatally shot his wife Shanna, 31, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda before turning the gun on himself in the family’s rural home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2020.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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Inquiry learns about gap in care for former soldier Lionel Desmond

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — A nurse who assessed Lionel Desmond two months before the Afghanistan war veteran killed his family and himself in 2017 says his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appeared to be getting worse during a period in 2016 when he wasn’t receiving any treatment.

Heather Wheaton told a provincial fatality inquiry Tuesday she met Desmond on Oct. 24, 2016 when he showed up with his wife Shanna at the emergency room at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., seeking help for a long list of complaints.

At the time, the mental health crisis clinician filled out an assessment form, noting the former infantryman was suffering from interrupted sleep, nightmares, loss of appetite, aggression towards objects, conflict with his wife and increasing anger, depression and anxiety.

As well, Wheaton noted that Desmond had paranoid ideas about his spouse, lacked concentration and was “not sure how to live as a civilian” since his discharge from the army in June or July 2015 — eight years after he served in Afghanistan.

Wheaton’s notes indicate Desmond received treatment at the Ste. Anne’s Hospital operational stress injury clinic in Montreal between June and August of 2016, but Desmond said there had been a two-month gap in follow-up treatment because of a snafu with the federal Veterans Affairs Department.

The inquiry has heard that after Desmond was discharged, he and his wife lived in New Brunswick, where a Veterans Affairs case manager supervised his ongoing care — but there was a gap in 2016 when Desmond returned to his home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

On Monday, a lawyer representing the attorney general of Canada told the inquiry that Desmond’s case manager was working on finding the services he needed in Nova Scotia, but there was some dispute over where he would have to go — Halifax or Cape Breton.

The gap in services is important because the inquiry is examining whether Desmond and his family had access to adequate mental health services.

The inquiry, which started hearings Jan. 27, is also investigating whether the Desmond family had access to domestic violence intervention services and whether health-care providers who interacted with the former corporal were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.

Wheaton, a nurse with more than 20 years of experience, told the inquiry she did not receive any formal training regarding domestic violence.

When inquiry counsel Shane Russell asked if that kind of training would be useful, Wheaton said she felt capable of making a proper evaluation by using a mental health assessment form.

“I believe that we evaluate the risk,” she testified. “(But any) information about domestic violence, specifically, I wouldn’t say no to. Any information that helps us to be more sensitive or more aware of things is welcome.”

The provincial court judge overseeing the inquiry, Warren Zimmer, asked Wheaton if the assessment has specific indicators regarding domestic violence or homicidal inclinations.

“If there’s a cue of any kind — if somebody has anger, for example — we would explore that fairly extensively with the person and ask for examples,” she testified.

“(It’s) with an awareness that if a person is going to act out violently towards another person, more often than not that’s going to occur in their intimate relationships.”

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond fatally shot his wife Shanna, 31, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda before turning the gun on himself in the family’s rural home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2020.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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Judge denies deportation stay for boy, 5, with head injury

HOUSTON — A federal judge rejected a request for an emergency stay Monday to require that a 5-year-old Guatemalan boy not be deported before he is seen by a pediatric neurologist, according to advocates for the child.

Lawyers for the child’s family plan to appeal Judge Stephen V. Wilson’s denial during a Monday hearing in California to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The boy’s aunt and his advocates say he has severe headaches, complains about hearing normal levels of sound, and suffers other symptoms they trace to his fall from a shopping cart in December. Shortly after he fell, a hospital diagnosed the child with a skull fracture and bleeding around his brain.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has defended the care it’s given to the 5-year-old, who ICE agents detained in January with his mother, father, and 1-year-old brother in its family detention centre at Dilley, Texas. After multiple check-ups at Dilley, the agency says it took the child to a San Antonio hospital last week after concerns were first raised that he was still having symptoms. That hospital said the child’s MRI was normal and there were no signs that he still had bleeding in his skull. He was not taken to a pediatric neurologist

With the mother having been ordered deported by an immigration judge, she and her two children could be flown to Guatemala this week unless a court intervenes. The children’s father was taken to a separate immigration jail in California.

ICE declined to comment Monday and the Department of Justice did not respond to a message.

Amy Maldonado, an immigration attorney working with the family, said she hoped the 9th Circuit would prevent the child’s deportation. The family’s lawyers have also asked for a court to prevent ICE from trying to immediately deport the family.

Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press

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Alberta Appeal Court hears man convicted in three murders wants one overturned

CALGARY — An Alberta man who was found guilty of killing a father, the victim’s two-year-old daughter and a senior wants one of his convictions thrown out.

Derek Saretzky’s lawyer argued in an Appeal Court in Calgary that his client’s first-degree murder conviction in the death of Hanne Meketech should be overturned.

Balfour Der said Saretzky never should have been convicted in the 69-year-old woman’s death, because his rights were breached when police improperly took his confession.

Saretzky was also convicted of first-degree murder in the slayings of Terry Blanchette and Blanchette’s two-year-old daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette.

The murders in 2015 happened in two small Crowsnest Pass communities in southwestern Alberta.

Saretzky is serving life sentences outside the province and was not in court for the appeal.

“It was a confession taken without telling him about his right to speak to a lawyer,” Der said Monday outside court. “He should have been told about (that) prior to getting that confession.”

Crown prosecutor Christine Rideout argued that at the time of the police interview, Saretzky would have been well aware of his right to counsel. She said he had received those instructions numerous times on previous occasions.

The Appeal Court reserved its decision.

Der told the three-judge appeal panel that there were significant changes in his client’s health and behaviour after he was arrested, including a suicide attempt.

Saretzky confessed to Meketech’s murder six months after he admitted that he had killed Blanchette, 27, and the little girl.

He was convicted by a jury in Lethbridge, Alta., in 2017. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.

Meketech was killed in her home in September 2015. During the trial, the jury was shown videotaped confessions in which Saretzky told police it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to kill Meketech — who knew his grandparents — because he didn’t think anyone cared about her.

Five days later, Blanchette’s body was discovered in his home. His daughter was missing, which sparked an Amber Alert and a extensive search.

The trial heard that Saretzky snatched Hailey from her crib and took her to a campsite, partially owned by his family, where he choked her with a shoelace. Jurors were told he drank her blood, ate a piece of her heart and burned her body in a fire pit.

Police quickly identified Saretzky as a suspect. A van, which matched vehicles used by his family’s cleaning company, was seen at Blanchette’s home.

Saretzky told police he was guided by the devil.

He initially appealed all three murder convictions, but the other two appeals have been abandoned.

“There has to be some solid legal grounds to work from. There were not for those other cases, primarily because he had confessed to family members,” Der said.

An appeal of the three consecutive life sentences is still outstanding, pending the outcome of this hearing, Der said.

(CTV Calgary)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2020

The Canadian Press

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Former Chicago cop sentenced to 10 years in fatal shooting

CHICAGO — A former Chicago police officer found guilty of second-degree murder in the off-duty shooting of an unarmed man in 2017 was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

Lowell Houser, 60, sat slumped in a chair between his lawyers as Cook County Judge William Gamboney handed down the sentence. The charges carried a possible sentence of probation or a maximum term of 20 years. Houser will get credit for the nearly three years he spent on an ankle monitor awaiting trial. He is expected to be released from custody in about two years.

Noting the case being a tough one for him, Gamboney acknowledged Houser’s role in escalating a dispute with Jose Nieves that led to the fatal shooting.

“It was not reasonable to believe that circumstances existed to justify the use of deadly force in this case,” the judge said in his 15-page decision.

During trial in October, prosecutors said Houser shot the 38-year-old Nieves during an argument outside an apartment complex where the victim lived. But Houser, a 28-year police veteran who was on medical leave for cancer treatment at the time of the shooting, claims that Nieves made a threatening move and he then acted in self-defence.

“Mr. Houser had a multitude of alternatives during his interaction with Mr. Nieves,” Gamboney said. “We can sit here and debate what he could have done … but Mr. Houser chose probably the most extreme (option) in that list of circumstances, and as a result, we have a 37-year-old man … Jose Nieves, who is dead.”

Houser, who spoke briefly, stopped short of expressing remorse for Nieves’ death.

“I sincerely send my condolences to the Nieves family,” he said. “Many times I went over in my mind if there was something I could have done to prevent this, but, unfortunately, I can only look at this in hindsight.”

Houser was the first Chicago officer to be found guilty of murder since the historic conviction last year of then-Officer Jason Van Dyke.

In 2018, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet the white officer fired at the 17-year-old in 2014. A judge subsequently sentenced him to just under seven years in prison.

The Associated Press

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