The arrest of a Winnipeg woman after she threatened to jump off a city bridge is renewing questions about how city police deal with people experiencing mental-health crises.
An arrest report provided to court March 19 opposing the woman's release on bail recommended she be prohibited from attending to any bridges in Manitoba and using them for "attention seeking."
"The antics of the accused… have taken a large amount of Winnipeg Police Service manpower and Winnipeg Fire paramedic resources and medical staff, in the time of a pandemic are all… overworked and exhausted," the report said.
The 19-year-old woman has been the subject of 241 "calls for service" in the past 10 years, 25 of them from city bridges, it said.
“The antics of the accused… have taken a large amount of Winnipeg Police Service manpower and Winnipeg Fire paramedic resources and medical staff, in the time of a pandemic are all… overworked and exhausted.” – Arrest report
Her March 17 arrest came less than two weeks after two community workers filed a complaint with the police, alleging they saw two officers berating and swearing at a woman attempting to commit suicide by hanging on the Redwood Bridge.
Officers accused of mistreating woman in distress on bridgeClick to Expand
Posted: 4:00 AM Mar. 20, 2021
Two community workers have filed a complaint with the Winnipeg Police Service, saying they witnessed officers berating and swearing at a woman who was attempting to hang herself on the Redwood Bridge.
Jasmine Smith and Angela Desrosiers were driving together on the Redwood Avenue crossing around 2 p.m. Monday, when they saw a female pedestrian slip something around her neck that appeared to be tied to the structure.
A WPS spokesperson declined to comment Thursday on the arrest or comments in the report, saying it would breach the Public Health Information Act.
"In order to properly respond to this request with context, the Winnipeg Police Service would have to provide information on its dealings with (the woman) that would be considered medical information," the spokesperson said in an email to the Free Press.
Police charged the woman with public mischief after she straddled the railing of the Midtown Bridge at rush hour and threatened to jump.
"The accused… at peak rush hour time held up traffic and the citizens of Winnipeg from using the bridge to get home from their respective jobs," the arrest report said.
Two officers spoke to the woman and "successfully removed" her from the bridge, it said.
"It is to be noted that with the high call volume within the city of Winnipeg for violent crime and crimes against people involving violence, Winnipeg police are summoned to attend from other districts for this serious nature of call," the report said.
The woman spent a week in custody before the charge against her was stayed and she was released.
On Feb. 28, the woman was taken into custody after threatening to jump from the same bridge. She was taken to Health Sciences Centre where she was "seen within minutes and discharged" by medical staff, the arrest report said. Police attempted to take her to the Crisis Response Centre "where staff again refused to deal with (the woman)."
After being cleared by medical staff, the woman told police she "would just go back to the bridge."
The 241 calls for service listed by police include 86 described as "mental health assistance and attempt suicide calls."
Police estimated calls for service involving the woman this year — including seven to the Midtown Bridge — have tied up 102 officers and cost the force at least $20,400 in wages.
Police accused the woman of making "fictitious notions" of jumping from the bridge "until there are Winnipeg Police and Fire Paramedic resources dispatched at which time she climbs back over the rail and is taken into custody."
"The accused then is detained under the Mental Health Act and subsequently taken to the Health Sciences Centre to be assessed by a doctor and subsequently released within hours to minutes of being brought in for an assessment," the arrest report said.
In charging the woman and describing her as they did, police are criminalizing mental-health issues, said Quinn Saretsky, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba, a support organization for women involved with the criminal justice system.
“It’s incredibly offensive to describe her behaviour as ‘antics’ and ‘fictitious.’” – Quinn Saretsky, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba
"It’s incredibly offensive to describe her behaviour as ‘antics’ and ‘fictitious,’" Saretsky said. "This is one of the exact reasons we have advocated so strongly for defunding the police. To charge someone with public mischief when they are having a mental-health crisis is incredibly, incredibly offensive."
"To put a price on someone’s mental health… and to say it’s a strain on the services of the Winnipeg police, I just can't imagine how those interactions would have gone and how scared that individual would have felt interacting with individuals who have that kind of outlook on the situation they are walking into," she said.
Saretsky said the woman’s case highlights the need to redistribute resources to supports for mental health, housing, addictions and other issues.
"All of these things are measures in harm reduction that we’re not seeing," Saretsky said. "When we look at police responses it’s often violent. Whether its physically violent or emotionally violent, there’s violent outcomes at the end of it. I’m thinking of this woman having to experience this type of systemic violence from an organization that is supposed to be assisting or claims to be assisting in circumstances like this and we just continue to see over and over again that’s just not the case."
At her recent bail court hearing, the woman appeared by video, rocking in her chair and moaning in apparent distress.
“I am concerned that in a lot of ways this is a mental–health issue, and I don’t necessarily want to criminalize it.” – Provincial court Judge David Mann
Provincial court Judge David Mann adjourned the woman’s case to mental-health court, and ordered that she remain in custody, but the charge against her was stayed a day before her scheduled appearance.
Court heard the woman has a youth record that includes more than two dozen convictions for "assaultive behaviour," none of which resulted in sentences of more than 45 days.
"I am concerned that in a lot of ways this is a mental-health issue, and I don’t necessarily want to criminalize it," Mann said. "On the flipside, it’s not clear whether or not there is any legitimacy to the fact she is going to jump. If somebody is going to jump or threatening to jump and they get help, they shouldn’t be criminalized."
Crown attorney Katy Sweet told court the woman’s behaviour cries out for a psychiatric-fitness assessment.
"On the surface it seems to me that (she) may be suffering from significant mental-health issues, regardless of whether they are considered malicious, let’s say, by the Winnipeg police," she said. "She’s clearly not getting treated by the hospital."
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.