Trinidad: Mentally ill man shot dead by police

Roger “Bub­bles” Nages­sar

(Trinidad Guardian) Schiz­o­phre­nia is a chron­ic and se­vere men­tal dis­or­der that af­fects how a per­son thinks, feels and be­haves. So when Roger “Bub­bles” Nages­sar charged at po­lice with a cut­lass in his hand, rel­a­tives felt the po­lice could have tak­en pity and shot him in the legs.

In­stead, Nages­sar, 44, died at the San Fer­nan­do Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal af­ter be­ing shot sev­er­al times in the leg and chest Wednes­day night.

A re­port stat­ed that around 8.30 pm Wednes­day, Ste Madeleine po­lice and the Rapid Re­sponse Unit re­spond­ed to a re­port that Nages­sar was walk­ing in the road with a cut­lass. He had been act­ing vi­o­lent­ly and throw­ing bot­tles at his neigh­bours’ homes along Her­rera Street, Friend­ship Vil­lage, San Fer­nan­do.

When of­fi­cers ar­rived and called Nages­sar out of his house, where he lived alone, he emerged with a cut­lass. De­spite the of­fi­cers’ in­struc­tions to drop the cut­lass three times Nages­sar re­fused. He re­port­ed­ly said: “Like they want to ex­e­cute my son.” He then walked to­ward the of­fi­cers and they fired six shots at him. He was tak­en to the San Fer­nan­do Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal (SFGH) where he died.

A rel­a­tive, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, said yes­ter­day that while the of­fi­cers were with­in their rights to de­fend them­selves they could have shot Nages­sar in his leg. He said Nages­sar was an out­pa­tient of the SFGH and be­haved well when he took his med­ica­tion. How­ev­er, he of­ten for­got to do so and that was when things got bad. For ex­am­ple, he not­ed that Nages­sar had no chil­dren.

Six years ago when Nages­sar suf­fered his first vi­o­lent episode he al­so walked the streets with a cut­lass. On that oc­ca­sion po­lice al­so re­spond­ed but he was shot in the legs. He was shown le­nien­cy when he ap­peared in the court and was not sen­tenced to prison or fined.

But on Wednes­day night the rel­a­tive said the of­fi­cers did not fire a warn­ing shot. A non-lethal shot or non-lethal weapons such as tasers or pep­per spray, the rel­a­tive added, could have made a dif­fer­ence in this case.

Since 2014, the Po­lice So­cial Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion has been lob­by­ing for the use of non-lethal weapons that would re­duce the num­ber of dead­ly en­coun­ters with men­tal­ly ill peo­ple as well as in­jury to of­fi­cers.

“In my view and the view of many oth­er peo­ple, ex­ces­sive force was used be­cause of the ar­eas they shot him. They are the pro­fes­sion­als in this area, but I am look­ing at it as they shot a per­son who is men­tal­ly ill,” the rel­a­tive said.

“I know that as po­lice of­fi­cers their first re­sponse is self-preser­va­tion. I’m not say­ing that their lives were not threat­ened, but a lev­el of pro­fes­sion­al ap­proach is with­in their du­ty and I think there are cer­tain ar­eas on a per­son they can tar­get that would not dam­age vi­tal or­gans.”

An au­top­sy was ex­pect­ed to be done yes­ter­day and rel­a­tives were to meet on whether they will file a com­plaint with the Po­lice Com­plaints Au­thor­i­ty.

There have been many en­coun­ters be­tween po­lice and men­tal­ly ill cit­i­zens that have end­ed in the cit­i­zens’ deaths in re­cent years.

Last Ju­ly, Kevin Lewis, 29, who rel­a­tives said was men­tal­ly ill, was shot dead af­ter he al­leged­ly at­tacked a group of Port-of-Spain po­lice. The of­fi­cers had re­spond­ed to a re­port that he was threat­en­ing his neigh­bours and dam­ag­ing prop­er­ties in St Ann’s.

Last April, Col­in Roopc­hand, 26, who suf­fered from bipo­lar dis­or­der, was shot dead by po­lice while in his house. It was re­port­ed that he at­tacked his moth­er. When the of­fi­cers ar­rived, they called on him to drop the knife he was hold­ing. In­stead, he lunged at them and was shot in his chest.

In June 2017, Daniel Paul, 23, who was men­tal­ly ill, was shot dead by po­lice who re­spond­ed to a re­port that he was throw­ing stones at pass­ing ve­hi­cles in Ste Madeleine. He at­tempt­ed to at­tack the of­fi­cers and was shot twice.

In March 2017, Paul Marchan, an out­pa­tient of the St Ann’s Hos­pi­tal who al­so suf­fered from bipo­lar dis­or­der, was shot dead by po­lice af­ter he al­leged­ly at­tacked them with a ra­zor blade near his Diego Mar­tin home. Sim­i­lar­ly, res­i­dents re­port­ed to po­lice that he was ter­ror­is­ing the neigh­bour­hood.

Deyals­ingh: Time for tasers

As­so­ci­a­tion of Psy­chi­a­trists sec­re­tary Dr Var­ma Deyals­ingh is call­ing on the au­thor­i­ties to is­sue po­lice of­fi­cers with tasers and rub­ber bul­lets which can be used to sub­due men­tal­ly ill per­sons who act out vi­o­lent­ly. He said train­ing must al­so be giv­en to of­fi­cers to tar­get non-crit­i­cal ar­eas of the body if they have to use their firearms.

Deyals­ingh said the ma­jor­i­ty of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from schiz­o­phre­nia are not vi­o­lent and tend to iso­late them­selves. How­ev­er, there are cas­es where a schiz­o­phrenic may de­vel­op a delu­sion where­by they feel threat­ened and be­cause of para­noia, he or she may act out vi­o­lent­ly

“We keep hav­ing these is­sues where the men­tal­ly ill per­son is on the re­ceiv­ing end. There have been three cas­es with­in the last year and a half where po­lice used ex­treme force,” Deyals­ingh told the T&T Guardian.

“We have to un­der­stand that there are go­ing to be more men­tal­ly ill peo­ple in our streets so there are go­ing to be more cas­es for the po­lice to deal with. Our chal­lenge is how we can train the po­lice of­fi­cers to face the men­tal­ly ill per­son in that sit­u­a­tion. “

He added, “If the en­counter may lead to death or phys­i­cal dam­age to mem­bers of the pub­lic, po­lice may have to use ex­ces­sive force. We are hop­ing that the po­lice of­fi­cers can be trained to bring down those ag­gres­sive men­tal­ly ill per­sons with non-lethal means.”

Last year, 26 po­lice of­fi­cers from the South­ern Di­vi­sion, Cen­tral Di­vi­sion, Com­mu­ni­ty Polic­ing Sec­re­tari­at and South West­ern Di­vi­sion par­tic­i­pat­ed in the South West Re­gion­al Health Au­thor­i­ty’s fifth Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Men­tal Health First Aid train­ing ses­sion. The train­ing was de­signed to equip of­fi­cers with the knowl­edge to recog­nise and re­spond to per­sons with men­tal ill­ness­es while fa­cil­i­tat­ing the re­fer­ral process for spe­cialised treat­ment.

How­ev­er, the po­lice still do not have tasers and oth­er non-lethal weapons for use as part of their equip­ment.

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