Throughout her career as a registered nurse, she had grown accustomed to patients with complex circumstances, and being involved in serious emotionally or physically dangerous situations.
However, the Western Regional Memorial Hospital employee told the court earlier this month she had very rarely felt powerless or afraid on the job — until a year ago, when a patient left the hospital and emailed threats to kill her and other staff, including photos of himself with a gun.
“I was very fearful of my safety and that of my family. I called home immediately and had to tell my husband to ask me no questions but to pack up our children and go elsewhere until he heard from me again,” the nurse wrote in her victim impact statement, presented at the trial of a 41-year-old Corner Brook man.
The man pleaded guilty to charges of threatening hospital staff, threatening to damage hospital property and breaching court orders twice; charges laid after he visited the hospital a year ago.
The man suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health issues, the court heard, and had been experiencing suicidal ideation. He visited Western Regional Memorial Hospital for help but was not admitted.
Upset, he went home and took a photo of himself with a handgun then sent it by email to hospital staff, saying he was planning to “take them out one-by-one,” and “smash their face right in.”
He spoke of payback, of “blowing up” the hospital, and of knowing how to make explosive devices.
The man was arrested the same day and released on conditions to stay away from the nurse, but he showed up outside her office five days later, making a scene.
Provincial Court Judge Wayne Gorman didn’t take kindly to a suggestion during the man’s sentencing hearing that hospital staff were partly responsible for the man’s crimes.
“There was no evidence presented at the sentence hearing to support this proposition,” Gorman said. “(The man) is solely responsible for the offences committed by him and he must take responsibility for his actions. It is a grave mistake to place blame upon victims for the conduct of offenders.”
That being said, the man’s mental health issues did contribute directly to the crimes, the judge determined. He gave the man a conditional discharge followed by a year of probation, noting threats to public institutions would normally attract a harsher sentence.
In this case, Gorman said the man’s actions were the result of an isolated incident that arose due to his medical issues, for which he has been receiving treatment ever since. The judge pointed to letters from two mental health professionals, who said the man — who has no prior criminal record - has not wavered in his commitment to treatment and has had engaged in no other “untoward behaviour.”
“He had gone to hospital because of suicidal ideation and his offences were a response to those difficulties,” Gorman said. “This does not make his response reasonable, but it helps to place it in context and establishes a nexus between his mental health issues and his offences.”