Judge says court case exposes holes in the system

Rosie Mullaley
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A man with a history of mental illness who chased his father and stepmother with a chainsaw has been released from custody.
But his lawyer worries where he'll end up.

Taylor Mitchellis seen with a sheriff's officer in provincial court in St. John's today. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

In provincial court in St. John¹s today, Taylor Mitchell was sentenced to 106 days time served, with 18 months probation.

However, with no place to live and no source of income, defence lawyer Joan Dawson expressed her concerns about Mitchell's future if he doesn't get help.

"This is not unique to this province," Dawson told Judge Jim Walsh. "The problem is how do we deal with a person who is mentally ill (once out of jail)?"

The 22-year-old St. John's man has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.

Dawson said she has checked every possible agency in the metro area to help find Mitchell a place to live, but nothing is available. She said Choices for Youth and the Tommy Sexton Centre are both at capacity, while the Wiseman Centre only takes people 25 years and over. She said he could get emergency accommodations through the Advanced Skills and Education department, but noted it would only be for a few nights.

She said applying for these places also takes time — time he doesn't have.

"None of this happened immediately," she said.

While Mitchell has been in and out of the Waterford Hospital several times, she said he can't go there to live.

"The Waterford is not an option for housing," Dawson said.

She also pointed out that it will also take time for Mitchell to re-apply for social assistance. Once he gets it, she said, "He's an able-bodied man, so income will be minimal."

Rehabilitation will also be a challenge.

"That's where we are and it's really unfortunate," Dawson said. "Like I said, it's not unique. I've seen (mentally ill) people released out in the snow with their flip-flops on."

She recommended the judge include a release condition that Mitchell reside in a place approved by his probation officer. Until then, he will have to find emergency accommodations.

"Institutionalizing the mentally ill is (not appropriate)," said Dawson, who added that it was Mitchell's first offence and that his mental illness came before his crimes.

She said jail is no substitute for secure accommodations with treatment, "and unfortunately it's not available in this city."

Dawson's remarks in court surprised everyone — even the judge.

"Well, you've opened my eyes..," Walsh said. "You've exposed a hole in the system and hopefully someone will pay attention."

Mitchell was taken into custody Jan. 14 after he tried to attack the couple at his grandparents’ house on Thorburn Road.

He chased the couple while they were in their car in the driveway. He revved the chainsaw as he got closer while yelling, “I’m going to f-----g kill you.”

Mitchell eventually put the chainsaw back in the shed, but when his father got out of the car, Mitchell punched him. His father blocked the blows with his arm.

Mitchell pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, uttering threats, assault and breaching court orders.

He also pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance at the Waterford Hospital clinic in October 2013, when he stormed into a doctor¹s office and demanded medication.

“If I don¹t get my drugs, I won¹t be responsible for what I do,” Mitchell had said. Staff said he was angry and agitated.

Crown prosecutor Mike Murray had asked the judge to give Mitchell a six-to eight-month jail term, with 18 months probation, pointing to the seriousness of the offences. He also pointed out that Mitchell has a long history with non-compliance with court orders and taking his medication.

In suggesting time served with probation, Dawson said Mitchell is “a young man with complex mental health issues” as well as addictions.

She said between the ages of 17 and 21, he was admitted to a psychiatric unit eight times — seven of them at the Waterford Hospital.

Dawson said Mitchell had no criminal record before these incidents and got in trouble six days after he was released from hospital.

As part of Mitchell's sentence, he must pay $800 in victim surcharges.

Mitchell's mother was again in court today. She chose not to comment, but has said her son is "a brilliant man," who desperately needs help.

Outside court, Dawson said it's time the community stand up and do something about the lack of housing for mentally ill people.


Twitter: TelyCourt




Organizations: Mitchell's, Waterford Hospital, Tommy Sexton Centre Wiseman Centre Advanced Skills and Education department

Geographic location: St. John's

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