Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Voices tell man to attack guards

Case highlights treatment woes

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A young Winnipeg man was found not criminally responsible (NCR) Friday for three separate attacks on corrections officers, a case further highlighting the stressed state of resources available to deal with mentally ill Manitobans who come into conflict with the criminal justice system.

When he's not medicated, Eyob Wodajio, 26, experiences auditory hallucinations telling him figures of authority are holding people hostage, and he violently lashes out at them, provincial court Chief Judge Ken Champagne heard.

Last September, Wodajio sprung up suddenly on a group of Winnipeg Remand Centre guards standing outside the York Avenue jail one evening. He blasted them with bear spray and fled without being caught or identified as a suspect.

He returned Dec. 1 and did the same thing, hitting two of the surprised guards directly in the face with the noxious spray while shouting profanities. As he ran away, he sprayed two other officers as he passed them, Crown attorney Colin Soul said.

This time, however, police caught up with him washing his face in the bathroom of a nearby pool hall. While detained at Headingley Correctional Centre, Wodajio burned a guard's head and neck by intentionally tossing a cup of hot water on him on March 18.

'It is not possible for the review board to meet with Mr. Wodajio within 45 days'

-- Crown Colin Soul

That incident came one week after the Crown went to court to get an order requiring Wodajio undergo an in-depth psychological-fitness assessment within 30 days as mandated by the Criminal Code.

For the months he was at the jail, Wodajio was left untreated, defence lawyer Scott Paler told Champagne.

As well, the 30-day fitness assessment wasn't completed until May 30, court heard.

The Free Press reported in March on how an exodus of forensic psychiatrists from the PsychHealth department at the Health Sciences Centre had reduced the number of doctors to one from five.

Those departures have created long backlogs in having inmates assessed, meaning there have been many situations where the mandated timelines as set out in law aren't being met.

Wodajio's case is an example of that, but court also heard Friday resource-related issues at Manitoba's Mental Health Review Board are also triggering delays in dealing with NCR cases on the back end after the court process concludes.

Champagne ruled Wodajio's compromised mental state and "delusional beliefs" at the time of the assaults exempted him from legal responsibility.

The top judge referred Wodajio's case to Manitoba's Criminal Code Review Board to determine what will happen with him and his future treatment.

The board is required by law to hold a hearing on the case "not later" than 45 days from being found NCR unless "exceptional circumstances" exist which preclude it.

But resource pressures there mean a hearing won't happen in the required time, Soul said. "It is not possible for the review board to meet with Mr. Wodajio within 45 days."

Soul asked Champagne to extend the timeline to 90 days, a move opposed by Scott Paler.

Paler told Champagne it's "particularly urgent" Wodajio be swiftly removed from a jailhouse setting due to his diagnosed mental disorder, which causes him to lash out at correctional officers.

Champagne agreed and refused to extend the timeline for the hearing because of "resource-driven need."

"It's my view that the exceptional circumstances actually warrant quicker action," said the chief judge, referring to how Wodajio is still being held in a jail and supervised by peace officers.

"If there was ever circumstances that would suggest the need for timely actions by the review board, I would suggest that Mr. Wodajio's case is such circumstances," Champagne said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 A9

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