Monday, 8 August 2011

This Could Have Been Prevented

This is just truly chilling. One of the most frightening stories I've read in some time. On February 12th, 2011, Valerie Wolski, a caregiver with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Camrose, Alberta, was found strangled to death in the home of Terrence Wade Saddleback, the man she was assisting with day-to-day activities. She was alone with him when the attack happened. According to professionals, Saddleback has severe mental impairments. He can barely converse beyond 'hello' and 'goodbye', is illiterate, only knows simple verbal commands, can do no math, and does not know what month or year it is. What is also known about him, something that Valerie Wolski should have been told, is that Saddleback has a long history of violent outbursts and sexual attacks on women and children. Graham Jones, Saddlebacks' court-appointed guardian tried to (halfheartedly) warn the Canadian Mental Health Association of the risk of assigning a woman to care for Saddleback, after a 2009 attack on another female caregiver in a group home in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Five RCMP officers and a male caregiver were needed to subdue Saddleback, who was subsequently tranquilized and hospitalized. Although under heavy sedation, due to the risk he presented, Saddleback was assigned an RCMP officer to watch him. The officer was armed with a taser at all times.

After staying hospitalized for a year, the Canadian Mental Health Association decided to release Saddleback into one of their homes, providing him with round the clock care. During his year of hospitalization, Saddleback had grabbed staff by the hair and shook them, grabbed a male patient by the back of the neck, became sexually excited and masturbated in the presence of children, even went so far as to take hold of a child in the patient lounge area and kiss him on the back of the neck. These details came to light in a report that was recently released by judge William Andreassen, written by psychiatrist Christopher Green. These details were known. So too, was known that guardian Graham Jones, upon learning of the Canadian Mental Health Associations' decision to release Saddleback, told officials that:

"Terrence is capable of getting out of control, [that] sort of thing. Are you aware of that? And it was just snuffed off … I said something like I hope it's not females that are looking after Terrence. He relates better to men and he respects them more."

So, why was Wolski assigned to Saddleback? Why was she allowed to be alone with him? Why did it come to this? The psychiatric report, which can be found here, is unsettling, chilling. Everyone knew that Saddleback was unstable, that he preferred to attack women, that he was sexually attracted to children, and yet no precautions were taken to ensure Wolskis' safety. She was sent into a dangerous and ultimately fatal situation without all the knowledge that might have saved her life.

Is Saddleback truly unfit to stand trial? I don't know. He killed a woman, and if what I can glean from his ramblings is correct, he tried to sexually assault her, she told him no and tried to stop him, he became violent and pulled her hair, pushed her, hit her and ultimately strangled her to death. There needs to be some kind of punishment. However, there are others in this case that are fit to stand trial. Whoever assigned Wolski to Saddleback, whoever let her believe that she could be alone with him, whoever withheld all the pertinent details from her is guilty of her death as well. And that person, or those people should be on trial as well. Why wasn't she briefed, forewarned, protected? Is this a case of men or the patriarchy willingly not seeing the danger that other men pose to women? I believe that at some level that comes into play. What will be done about this? Where is the justice for Wolski? Someone has to be held accountable for her death. I'm looking at the Canadian Mental Health Association just as much as I'm looking at Saddleback. This brave caregiver should not die in vain. We need better screening and full transparency when assigning caregivers to mentally unstable individuals. A female caregiver simply should have never been sent into this situation alone, if at all. I am in no way implying that women should not be caregivers for mentally unstable patients, but if said patient has a history of violence toward female caregivers, and the caregiver is not notified of this, then I believe an offense has taken place. Had Wolski known everything up front, perhaps she could have refused the placement. Perhaps she could have brought another caregiver with her, so as not to be alone with Saddleback. Perhaps she would not be dead today.

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