Coroner’s inquest into police-involved death of Jacob Setah recommends better mental health services, review of taser use

Kamloops, B.C. [April 15]—The Jury presiding over the coroner’s inquest into the death of Jacob Setah has issued 15 recommendations following four days of hearings into the circumstances surrounding the 18-year-old’s death.

Setah had been committed under the Mental Health Act and jumped to his death after police attempted to apprehend him with the use of a taser when he escaped from the psychiatric unit at Royal Inland Hospital and climbed onto the ledge of the parkade. The Inquest investigated the availability of mental health services in rural communities, the decision to transfer Jacob from Williams Lake to Kamloops, and the RCMP’s policies on taser deployment.

Jurors heard from doctors, psychiatric nurses, and community mental health workers, all of whom testified to the multiple barriers that exist in accessing mental health services in rural communities and on reserve. The jury recommended significant changes to how these services are delivered to First Nations communities, including a call to introduce a youth mental health crisis response team, and to explore the expansion of video conferencing health services.

The jury also heard how Jacob was transferred away from his home to Royal Inland Hospital against his family’s will due to a lack of appropriate psychiatric facilities in Williams Lake, and recommended changes to both the Cariboo Hospital and to community mental health services in the surrounding area to accommodate youth in crisis and their families.

Russell Myers Ross, Chief of the Yunesit’in Government on Stone Reserve, where Jacob grew up, was present for the duration of the inquest and stated: “Until this Inquest, the facts of the tragedy had been a mystery to the family and community. As a result some of the feelings of anger and grief have resurfaced and there is still a need for healing. The need to support families so they can be deeply involved in their child's care is important, and moving forward, there is more responsibility for all that choose to learn about this event to improve our communities."

After RCMP officers on the scene testified about the use of a taser on Jacob as an attempt to “de-escalate” the situation, and how it ultimately failed, the jury also recommended a review of taser use in critical incidents where someone is threatening self-harm, stating they could not tell whether or not their use was potentially helpful or harmful in these circumstances. An expert on police use of force testified that even in ideal conditions tasers fail about 20% of the time they are deployed, and officers at the inquest conceded that the constable who fired the taser was unaware of other efforts being made to bring in either a crisis negotiator or psychiatrist to speak with Jacob. 

“While we are happy with the findings of the jury, and hopeful that their recommendations will make a difference in preventing deaths like Jacob’s in the future, we still believe there is fundamental lack of understanding from police in how to respond to a mental health crisis” said Doug King, police accountability lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who represented the Yunesit’in Government. “We continue to see an over-reliance on use of force as a means of attempting to resolve a mental health crisis, and have doubts about the adequacy of current mental health training for police responders.”

The jury's full recommendations can be read here.
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Douglas King, Lawyer: 778-898-6349, doug@pivotlegal.org
Russell Myers Ross, Chief: 250-302-2189, rmyersross@gmail.com