‘Human pass-the-parcel’: Judge slams Health Ministry after intellectually disabled man unfit to stand trial was put in ‘too hard basket’ and sent to live in campground
Nowhere to go: An intellectually disabled man has been treated as a ‘human master key’ and has nowhere to go other than a campsite which a judge calls ‘appalling’. Photo / 123RF Image Bank
- Intellectually disabled man deemed unfit to stand trial for sexual violence
- The judge was forced to remand him after the Health Ministry said there were no beds available
- Defense and Crown concerned about ‘significant risk’ to public
- ‘Nowhere else for him to go,’ says judge, calls case ‘appalling spectacle’
An intellectually disabled man with a history of violent and sexual offenses is out on bail at a South Island campground – potentially putting himself and the public at risk – while he waits for his ongoing court case to be heard resolved.
The judge handling his case said he had no choice but to send the man back to the community after the Department of Health and other agencies were unable to provide him with a safe bed appropriate and put it in the “too hard basket”.
The judge said the man was treated as a ‘pass-the-package human’ and his situation was an ‘appalling spectacle’ which was effectively sent to court for resolution.
The man, who could not be identified, is in his twenties.
After a childhood marked by abandonment, state care and severe abuse, he found himself in a cycle of serious and repeated offenses.
In December, Judge Raoul Neave declared the man unfit to stand trial on his most recent charges – saying it was clear he “suffered from significant deficits and had a large number of extremely complex issues”.
His situation was further complicated by his offenses, which included escapes and violent behavior.
Judge Neave said the man posed a “significant risk” to the public and needed to be “managed”.
He agreed with reports before the court that the man “should be subject to an order requiring essentially secure care”.
However, further assessment was needed and Judge Neave cannot make a final ruling on the matter until May, at the earliest.
Judge Neave then had to settle the question of where the man would live until this hearing.
The court heard the man lived on property run by a charitable trust that provides community mental health and disability support.
The charity acts on behalf of the state under a contract with the Department of Health.
Judge Neave was told the trust “won’t take it”.
‘Partly because of previous difficulties… (the trust) said they would no longer retain their residence and he could not stay there,’ Judge Neave said.
“It’s the biggest tragedy because…if he’s not placed there, he has to go somewhere else.
“If he doesn’t go there, no other bail address comes up.”
Judge Neave said he would ‘not be releasing’ the man into custody.
If he didn’t return him on bail, he had to return him to a hospital or secure facility.
But that was not an option as there were “no beds available in the South Island”.
“If I send him back to a hospital or a secure facility, he is under the Department of Health,” Judge Neave said.
“If I send him back to a secure facility, clearly the ministry will place (him) (into the trust).
“(The trust) said they wouldn’t take it.
“Essentially, those who have the responsibility to provide care for him have said, ‘we don’t do it’ or ‘we can’t do it’.
Judge Neave blasted the department and the confidence in its decision, obtained by the Herald.
“We have the appalling spectacle of a defendant with significant limitations passed on as a human exercise in ‘passing the package’ with no one having a clue where it will stay when the music stops,” he said. he declared.
“I must say that today’s exercise has to be one of the least uplifting experiences I have ever seen, certainly in my legal career and probably in my entire legal practice.”
Judge Neave said a bed was available for the man in Wellington and that under “ordinary circumstances” it might have been possible to transport him there.
Past trauma meant there would be ‘significant difficulty’ in giving the man any type of Covid test – a requirement to travel on a flight or ferry – and medical condition meant he could not fly without risk of physical injury.
“It would just put him on a level of insecurity and harm that I can’t contemplate,” Judge Neave said.
“In any event, given his escape history, I’m not sure I would be particularly confident, to be quite frank, in transporting him… the risks to himself, let alone anyone, are just too big.
“I cannot allow this situation to happen.”
Judge Neave said the only option available was to bail the man out at his former adoptive mother’s address – a one-bedroom Kainga Ora unit where four adults were already living.
“If he doesn’t go there, no other bail address comes up,” Judge Neave said.
“The address is in many ways unsuitable but it’s the least unacceptable option. No one…was able to offer me any alternative, let alone anything remotely doable.
“It is completely unacceptable to leave Court trying to see through the Gordian knot armed only with a blunt penknife – therefore all I can do is bail (the man) out.”
Judge Neave ordered the man to live on his adoptive mother’s property and only leave in the company of one of the adult residents or a social worker.
The man’s attorney told the Herald that soon after he moved in, some occupants started using synthetic drugs and he had no choice but to move out.
The only emergency accommodation available was a cabin in a campground.
The barrister agreed with Judge Neave that the case was “a spectacle” and said he and the Crown had major concerns about public safety with the man living alone in the community.
“It’s appalling,” he said.
“He has an intellectual disability, a head injury from years of abuse – really bad abuse.
“It doesn’t make sense…I’m not saying he’s a little angel – he’s not, he’s been involved in some very serious crimes, but at the moment he’s not a prisoner, he’s not a criminal, he’s a health care recipient.”
The lawyer said the man worked well when he had rules and routines, but went off the rails when there was sudden change or uncertainty.
When the latter happened, he found himself in trouble.
After the most recent alleged offence, the man spent almost a year in jail waiting for his case to be resolved.
Tragically, it was the most stability he had had in many years.
But the lawyer said at this point he was not a criminal and could not just be ‘locked in a cage’.
“It’s awful when this guy’s most stable life was nine months in jail… he wanted to stay there,” he said.
“But he’s not a criminal…he needs to be treated like someone who needs healthcare, not someone who just needs to be brought to safety.”
An anonymous Department of Health spokesperson could not explain why the man could not be accommodated by the trust.
The spokesman said the fact that the man could not travel to Wellington was “hampering” his accommodation options.
They said the department had ‘ensure local day-to-day support was provided’ to the man since he was released on bail.
“If COVID public health protocols were not a factor in this case, the Department of Health would be able to support the relocation and care of the defendant in Wellington,” the spokesperson said.
“The department is working with Canterbury DHB to ensure better results in the future.”
The spokesperson said “options will be referred to the Court” the next time the man’s case is called.