By Vicki Gilhula
Greater Sudbury Police Services are conducting an internal investigation into the conduct of officers who visited a Sudbury home Jan. 14 after being asked to help a mentally ill man.
It appears something went horribly wrong that night.
Judy and Gene Samarian had asked police to help them get their son, who is schizophrenic, into the hospital. Jon, 24, who was diagnosed eight years ago, had not been taking his medication. His parents were worried about him, afraid he could become violent, and were desperate to get him the care he needed.
Judy had been advised by mental health workers that police officers had sensitivity training and they would be able to get Jon into care in a safe and compassionate manner.
Upset and frustrated by her son's illness, she chose not to be home when the police came to take her son away. She did advise police all knives had been removed from the home.
Her husband, Gene Sr., says two police officers arrived sometime after 7:30 pm. Jon, who is about 6' 3", told the officers he wasn't going to the hospital.
"He said, 'If you want to take me out of here you are going to have to get some help. This is my house and I want you to leave. You'll have to kill me if you want to take me'," his father remembers.
Shortly afterwards, three more officers arrived. One was carrying pepper spray.
The officers asked Jon questions about his brothers, who are known to the police and have criminal records, says Gene.
Jon didn't answer and walked from the kitchen to the living room, one officer said, "Hey Jon, I have something for you," says Gene.
"Jon turned to see what he had and the officer pepper sprayed him in the face. Jon was shocked and he started to back up, and the officer continued to advance at him while spraying him."
As officers advanced toward the sick man, Jon began to lash out at them. They wrestled him to the ground, "and began beating him with their fists on his chest."
At this point, Gene alleges one of the officers began to stomp on his son's head and shoulders.
"I yelled out, 'don't hurt the boy. He's sick," and the officer continued to stomp in the same area with his feet."
Gene Sr. grabbed the officer by the shirt and pulled him off his son. He was then hit with pepper spray and handcuffed.
By this time there were at least six police officers at the Samarian home, although Judy says neighbours saw more outside.
As the police took Jon out of the home, Gene, who is about six feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds, said, "What you did here was not called for. What I did to stop you from beating my son was right, and if I had to I would do it again."
Gene Sr., who does not have a record, was then "taken downtown" and held in jail. He was charged with obstruction of justice and assaulting an officer.
Jon was taken to the St. Joseph?s Health Centre for assessment and then admitted to Sudbury Algoma. He is taking his medication and his parents are hopeful he will finally get the help he needs.
They have asked Sudbury police to investigate what happened the night their son took a beating.
"We had faith in the system, but we have been so disappointed," says Judy. "My boy needs a hospital, not to be hurt...Our family has been through enough."
Mental health workers confirm while many schizophrenics surrender willingly to authorities, others don't.
But a spokesperson for the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in Sudbury, who did not want to be identified, says, a situation like the Samarians describe, is unusual.
She and other parents have found Sudbury police to be "compassionate." Her experience has been that officers are "trained" to handle mentally ill people.
Staff Sgt. Paul Murdock of the Greater Sudbury Police Service says all officers have training on how to handle mentally ill patients.
However, officers advised that a person could be potentially violent, would be "on full alert," he says.
"At issue is the safety of the community," Murdock says. "People can't dictate how we do our job."
It is important to apprehend a mentally ill person as quickly as possible without injury to themselves or others, he explains.
Although it might be best to spend hours "talking down" a mentally ill patient, the police force does not have the human resources to do so, he explains.
Murdock, who is a member of the Ontario Schizophrenia Society and on the Canadian Mental Health Association's housing committee, speaks with compassion for people like Jon Samarian and his parents.
He gives the impression beating up sick people is not the normal police behavior. He is unable to discuss the Samarian case specifically.
But "we have professional standards and we investigate any internal breaking of the rules," he says.
Citizens' complaints such as the one issued by Judy and Gene Samarian "go straight to the chief...information will be acted on."
"The chief (Alex McCauley) doesn't want any bad apples," on the force, he says.