Two weeks of "living hell" are over for a Winnipeg hospital worker who was arrested and taken away in handcuffs after offering a thirsty patient a sip of water.

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This article was published 4/8/2011 (3772 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two weeks of "living hell" are over for a Winnipeg hospital worker who was arrested and taken away in handcuffs after offering a thirsty patient a sip of water.

On Thursday, Manitoba Justice said it would drop an assault-with-a-weapon charge against Teresa Sawatzky, a cleaner at Concordia Hospital.

Sawatzky was arrested July 16 after giving water to a patient who was bleeding from the mouth, and dabbing away his blood with a bit of mouthwash and an oral swab. Police observed the incident and, after verifying that Sawatzky was not a medical staff member, arrested her and removed her from the hospital in handcuffs.

Sawatzky was placed on administrative leave by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority after the incident and has not been back to work. "I've been living in hell for the last two weeks," Sawatzky said, only minutes after learning the charge against her had been stayed.

Moved to tears by relief and exhaustion, Sawatzky said she has sought counselling for stress brought on by the charges. "I've been traumatized by this," she said, adding she was thankful the Crown had "a voice of reason."

One small bright spot: She said she received an outpouring of well-wishes since news of her arrest went public. "I just want to let everybody know how much I appreciate the support they had for me," she said.

Among Sawatzky's most ardent supporters were members of her union, CUPE Local 1973. Local president Ric McAlpine said the Crown's decision came as "exciting news."

"I had every confidence that we would get to the point where charges would certainly be downgraded or even dropped," McAlpine said. "The police certainly over-reacted in the charges and the severity of charges. I'm very happy that the Crown has seen the voice of reason."

The patient at the centre of the incident also came to Sawatzky's defence. Days after the charges were laid, 25-year-old Patrick Beardy told the Free Press how he had landed at Concordia Hospital after being Tasered by police and falling face-first on the ground.

His lips were dry and his mouth bloody when Sawatzky, who was cleaning nearby, tried to ease his discomfort with the water and mouthwash. "She was helping me. That girl was being nice," he said.

On Thursday, Zane Tessler, a supervising senior Crown attorney for Manitoba Justice, said the decision to stay the charges was not based on one single factor, but "a combination of all of the factors looked at as a whole."

"We did receive some further information that I had requested from the police, and I've had a chance to review it in detail, and I've decided at this point, based on my review, that it's not in the public interest for us to pursue with any prosecution," Tessler said. "One of the obligations that we have is that we have to review these matters to determine whether there's both a reasonable likelihood of conviction and whether it's in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution... ," he said.

The Winnipeg Police Service declined to comment Thursday.

 

-- With files from Gabrielle Giroday

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.