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Judge questions release of mentally ill man who threatened to kill doctors

Andrew Agopsowicz was found dead of a suspected drug overdose at 2 a.m. on April 29, less than 12 hours after his release from custody.
Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, B.C.

He attacked a man with a hatchet near a Vancouver SkyTrain station, punched a car salesman and a psychiatric nurse, threw feces at a correctional officer, threatened to kill doctors and talked about building a bomb, shooting people in a parking lot and giving them injections by force.

Andrew Agopsowicz was considered such a danger to public safety that when he was released from Royal Jubilee Hospital’s psychiatric intensive care unit on April 27, police set up surveillance and followed him.

Agopsowicz was arrested almost immediately for breaching court orders not to consume alcohol and drugs, after police watched him down two beers then smoke crack cocaine in a glass pipe outside 844 Johnson St., a supportive-housing facility.

At his bail hearing the next day, Victoria provincial court Judge Ted Gouge made it clear he believed Agopsowicz was a public danger and should be kept in hospital.

“Please convey to Andrew Agopsowicz’s physicians that I think the decision to discharge him from hospital was a mistake and we can only hope it does not have tragic consequences,” said Gouge.

Agopsowicz was found dead of a suspected drug overdose at 2 a.m. on April 29, less than 12 hours after his release from custody.

“This was not just another overdose death — this was a mental-health system failure,” said Victoria lawyer Chantelle Sutton, who represented Agopsowicz for a number of years. “He was not provided enough support in the community to have any reasonable chance of success.”

At an April 28 bail hearing, Crown prosecutor Alexandra Pace asked for Agopsowicz to be detained, telling the judge that Agopsowicz was extremely difficult to support in the community, in jail, even in psychiatric custody, because of his threats and violence towards everyone.

“Universally, he’s ­considered a very high risk to people in whatever context,” said Pace, noting Agopsowicz’s 103 convictions, including five for assaulting police officers.

After three separate assaults on three peace officers in late 2019 and early 2020, Agopsowicz was sentenced to 18 months in jail. During that time, he was certified for involuntary mental-health treatment under the Mental Health Act and transferred to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, where he appeared to benefit from treatment. Although his sentence ended in February 2021, Agopsowicz was detained at the hospital for a further two months under the Mental Health Act.

But because he had lived in Victoria, the hospital wanted to transfer him to Royal Jubilee Hospital and then to locked-in psychiatric care at the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility. He was returned to Victoria from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital on April 20.

“There was a great deal of discussion among various agencies about where he could live and how he could be supported in the community and there was so much concern, because he had been so clear that he would use controlled substances upon his release, which exacerbate his psychosis and are a major risk factor in the community,” said Pace.

A psychological report from September 2020 described Agopsowicz as delusional, demanding and irritable. He threatened to shank doctors and carried grudges against them for years.

The report said Agopsowicz was fixated on getting drugs, which exacerbated his risk for violence in the community, Pace told the judge. Information from police reports said Agopsowicz made credible threats to kill four doctors in March 2020. He graphically described killing them, dismembering them and burning them.

He talked about building a bomb to blow up the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, shooting people in the parking lot or giving them injections by force. He punched a car salesman and a psychiatric nurse and threw blood at a security guard at Ridge Meadows Hospital, the court heard.

“There are a number of incoherent, unprovoked assaults in public and more assaults on correctional officers and threats to doctors, as he spends more time in custody,” Pace told the judge.

Kevin Crosbie, Island Health’s mental-health and substance-use criminal justice specialist, was asked to tell the court why Agopsowicz was discharged from hospital.

There had been a number of meetings with his probation officer, the forensic clinic, housing providers and shelters, and arrangements had been made for his medication, ­Crosbie said.

“We did manage to get a shelter bed for him in Rock Bay Landing, but we didn’t get a chance to see how that would go, because he was arrested.”

None of Island Health’s programs are designed to meet the needs of someone like Agopsowicz, said Crosbie.

The judge did not appear to be satisfied.

“I’ve read the psych report from 2020 and it seems to me unless there was a significant improvement in his condition since 2020, four months ago, he really needs to be in hospital. Am I missing something?” asked Gouge.

“When they moved him to our hospital it was thought that his psychosis had resolved to a place where it wasn’t going to resolve any more,” Crosbie replied.

“It’s timely for him to have another opportunity to be in the community … but the decision for the discharge ultimately rested with the psychiatrist treating him in psychiatric intensive care.”

The decision that Agopsowicz would leave the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital was made amid three months of “fairly intensive conversations” with health authorities, psychiatrists at Royal Jubilee Hospital, and directors and managers working to support that discharge, said Crosbie, adding the forensic hospital felt Agopsowicz’s discharge was overdue.

It was also decided that Seven Oaks was not suitable for Agopsowicz, said Crosbie.

“My request is a simple one,” said the judge. “Please tell the psychiatrists that I think Mr. Agopsowicz presents a public danger and they should reconsider. I am not empowered to detain him for medical reasons. They could do that.”

Sutton was frustrated and disheartened at the news of her client’s death.

“When people have terminal cancer, you may not be able to cure them, but you still help them,” said Sutton, who hopes Island Health will start treating severely mentally ill people the way they treat the physically ill.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that this man was mentally ill. The judge was clear — Andrew Agopsowicz needed to be in hospital.

“At the end of the day, the plan was to take him from being in custody for over a year where every movement was monitored to being released to sleep at a homeless shelter known for drug use. How is that a plan? After months of interagency meetings, how is that the best solution for Andrew’s and the community’s safety?”

Island Health said in a statement that the decision to discharge a patient from hospital is made by physicians based on a clinical assessment of a patient’s condition. “Patients are discharged with care plans in place. Typically, these include links to appropriate community supports, for example: shelters, overdose prevention sites, and community mental health and substance use workers.”

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