Labrador woman says being detained by police during a mental health crisis only made things worse

·5 min read
Louisa Pone of Sheshatshiu says her difficulties with health care and law enforcement, amid a mental health crisis, highlights gaps in the system. (Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC - image credit)
Louisa Pone of Sheshatshiu says her difficulties with health care and law enforcement, amid a mental health crisis, highlights gaps in the system. (Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC - image credit)

A Sheshatshiu woman says she was unfairly detained for 10 hours recently by the RCMP in June while she was in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Louisa Pone, attending a conference about suicide in the Labrador community in June — held as an effort to reduce the region's high suicide rate — began having flashbacks of her own trauma. Her husband took his own life 26 years ago, she said, and his death haunts her to this day.

"I was attending a suicide workshop and I shared my story, some of it. But … I started having flashbacks really really bad," Pone told CBC News in a recent interview.

An ambulance took Pone, who says she struggles every day with post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis, to the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. But she says she was left unsupervised in the emergency room waiting area, while still having flashbacks.

After waiting for an hour to see a doctor, Pone left the hospital intending to jump in front of a moving vehicle. She headed out to the busy Hamilton River Road by the Pentecostal Church.

"I ran out of the hospital saying I was gonna go commit suicide," said Pone. "But I didn't really want to kill myself. I just wanted the pain to stop, and the pain was too much at the time."

Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC
Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC

Instead, Pone said, she changed her mind and went back to the emergency room, where it still took another two hours to see a doctor.

For many residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, North West River and Sheshatshiu, the Labrador hospital's emergency room is the only health-care option because of a shortage of family doctors. Patients without a family doctor often wind up filling the emergency room for care, driving up wait times.

According to a 2022 poll done by the  Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, 31 per cent of people in the Western Health and Labrador-Grenfell Health regions don't have a family doctor, compared with 14 per cent of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula.

Pone says she was prescribed sedatives and sent home. But back at her home in Sheshatshiu, she says, she began having flashbacks again — she says she thinks she wasn't prescribed the right dose — and a family member called another ambulance for her, shortly after midnight.

She says she got into the ambulance but then decided she didn't want to go back to the emergency room, fearing that she'd be left alone again and not given proper medication. She began screaming — Pone says being in an enclosed space is upsetting to her — and was let out of the ambulance while they were still in Sheshatshiu.

Pone says the ambulance crew tried to get her back in the ambulance but she refused. The police were called — Pone says she doesn't know who called them — and she was taken to the RCMP's Sheshatshiu detachment.

Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC
Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC

Pone says officers told her that if she stayed calm for a few hours, they'd let her go home. She wound up being detained for about 10 hours, from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said, acknowledging she was having difficulty staying calm. But the cell triggered memories of childhood trauma, she said, including abuse and being locked in a room for long stretches.

"I was going completely nuts in there. I just had flashbacks to when I was a kid, having been buried in the room and begging to get out."

At 6 a.m., Pone says, she asked to be given her heart medication, which she takes every morning. She says her request was never fulfilled. Two hours later, she says, she was able to speak to a sergeant and she asked to be taken home.

"They said no. They said, 'You gotta stay here for one more hour,'" said Pone.

Escalation inside the cell

But she wasn't allowed to leave at 9 a.m., she says, and the situation began to deteriorate.

"I kept banging on the door with my feet, took the mattress and tore it up, and took the water from the toilet and threw it all over the place, and I threw it at the [surveillance] camera," she aid.

"Then I took the mattress and tried to put it over me so that they won't be able to see me because I was afraid of them at this point."

Pone says she kept asking to be let out but was refused. She says officers wouldn't come to the cell to talk to her.

"I was pretty traumatized with the whole experience."

Pone says her anxiety grew to the point that she tried to use the drawstring from her sweatpants to choke herself. Officers intervened to stop her from hurting herself, she said.

The RCMP said they would not comment on Pone's case, citing privacy concerns, but a spokesperson provided RCMP detention protocols by email.

"Generally speaking, we do not house persons in cells solely related to a mental health crisis and we do not hold such persons in cells for any prescribed amount of time. Persons taken into the custody of police in relation to a mental health crisis are transported to hospital as soon as possible for assessment by health-care professionals," wrote Glenda Power, the RCMP's director of communications.

Power said the health assessment might not be immediately possible in certain circumstances, including intoxication or violent behaviour.

"In these circumstances, the individuals are housed in cells, closely monitored and then brought for assessment when appropriate to do so (e.g. violent behaviour has lessened or ceased, the person's intoxication level does not prevent assessment)," wrote Power.

Pone said she was not intoxicated and didn't threaten anyone.

But I didn't really want to kill myself, I just wanted the pain to stop, and the pain was too much at the time. - Louisa Pone

Pone says she was released at 2 p.m., and taken to the hospital for an assessment. This time, she says, got a higher dosage of sedatives.

The CBC has asked Labrador-Grenfell Health for comment but the health authority has not responded.

Pone says she will be seeking legal advice.

"They shouldn't have treated me like that. Ten hours in lockup? I couldn't sleep there because I was afraid."

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