‘They deceived us,’ says Samwel Uko’s family on highly emotional 3rd day of inquest

Samwel Uko at graduation. (Samwel Uko/Facebook - image credit)

Samwel Uko at graduation. (Samwel Uko/Facebook – image credit)

Warning: This story contains details and language some readers may find disturbing

Samwel Uko’s family expressed anger, pain and thankfulness Wednesday at the third day of the coroner’s inquiry into Uko’s death.

Uko, a 20-year-old football player from Abbotsford, B.C., died at Wascana Lake on May 21, 2020, while in Regina visiting an aunt. His family said it was a suicide.

Leading up to his death, Uko had sought medical help twice for mental health issues, and was forcibly removed from the Regina General Hospital. Uko was removed due to a lack of clarity and communication issues in Uko’s registration information. His body was found in Wascana Lake about an hour later.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority apologized to Uko’s family in July 2020, later admitting in a legal document that it had failed to provide follow-up care, and paid $81,000 in damages to the family.

Wednesday saw testimony from Sara Thompson, the triage nurse on duty during Uko’s second visit to the hospital on May 20, 2020.

Thompson testified to the jury that she does not recall actually seeing Uko that day. She said she remembered seeing police officers and that she saw security guards taking someone out of the hospital.

Then the video of the events leading up to and including Uko’s forced removal from the Regina General Hospital emergency room was played.

Thompson was visible in the video. She testified she was triaging registered patients, not far from the registration area where Uko was sitting.

Thompson said security told her they couldn’t get a name from the young man to register. Because of the flow of patients in the area, Thompson said she told security to take Uko “anywhere but here.” She told the jury there were other places to sit outside of the registration area.

Then the video came to the portion where Uko yelled out “Leave me alone! … I have mental issues!”

That’s when a family member present at the inquest screamed at Thompson “Did you hear that? My own brother is gone because of you!”

The woman, who identified herself as Uko’s sister, called Thompson a “bitch” and a “liar” multiple times. She then left the room and could be heard screaming outside the closed doors.

Laura Sciapelletti/CBC News

Laura Sciapelletti/CBC News

The coroner adjourned the inquest early for a lunch break.

After the lunch break, Thompson continued testifying and said the reason she did not help Uko was because she was busy helping another patient at the triage desk.

“In that moment, I can’t stress enough that I was managing the ER department … and everything else in that moment.”

She said from an operational standpoint, it would have made no difference if Uko was of another race. She said she would have kept doing her duties as a triage nurse with the patient she had in that moment.

Jury hears from security guard

Joran Sacchetti, a security guard who escorted Uko out of the emergency room, also testified Wednesday. He is visible in the video.

He said removing Uko out of the hospital was a decision by the security team after they had talked to Uko for some time.

When asked why he didn’t help Uko when he said he had mental issues, Sacchetti said that isn’t his choice, but that he did go talk to the triage nurse Thompson.

He said Thompson seemed like she wasn’t concerned about keeping him in the hospital.

Sacchetti said that due to the need to maintain physical distance between patients during the pandemic, security had instructions not to let people who had no need to be in the hospital stay there.

He said Uko was looking at and typing on his phone.

“I noticed he opened an app and it looked like he was taking videos.”

Sacchetti said he assumed Thompson heard Uko say he needed help because her desk was facing Uko.

Sacchetti said he wasn’t given an option by health professionals as to where Uko should go and that no one stopped security as they removed Uko.

“We told [Uko] on the way out that he was welcome to come back and register.”

Sacchetti testified it was suspected Uko wasn’t responding due to a language barrier and that attempts to communicate with him through writing on a notepad were rejected.

Police testify

On Wednesday afternoon, the Regina Service police officer who dropped Uko off at the hospital that day testified. Constable Trent Walker said Uko had called 911, saying he had mental health issues.

The inquest jury heard the 911 calls Uko made. The young man could be heard saying “I need help very, very bad.” The 911 operator asked him to stop moving multiple times, as he sounded short of breath. Uko said he was not hurt, but very tired.

Walker said he went to meet Uko and they talked. He said Uko shared his name and date of birth and told Walker he wanted to go to the hospital. Walker told the jury he took Uko to the hospital and through to registration.

Walker broke down in tears and told the jury, “we brought him to where he wanted to go.” Uko’s father then said to Walker “God Bless you” and started weeping.

Const. Andrea Renchko, who met Walker and Uko at the hospital to assist, testified that she believed the hospital would take care of Uko.

Security guards deny hearing Uko’s words

The day ended with two more security guards who had forcibly removed Uko. Jason Pryputniski said Uko was agitated and caused a “commotion.” When asked what the commotion was, he said Uko wasn’t giving information on who he was.

Pryputniski told the jury he did not hear Uko scream that he was having mental health issues when security removed him.

Security guard Greg Friesen said he doesn’t recall Uko yelling as he was removed.

Uko’s family audibly scoffed at the guards’ testimonies about not hearing Uko’s cries.

Family returning money

The family announced at a scrum before the inquest began that they would be returning the money.

Omayra Issa/CBC

Omayra Issa/CBC

“It’s been a long two years for us, we still remember his funny stories, his honesty, his kindness, we are very grateful we have shared those moments with him,” Justin Nyee, Uko’s uncle said. “We know so many of his friends feel lucky to have known him.”

His family said they gave recommendations to the SHA on how to avoid similar incidents in the future. They said the SHA told them it was going to put new measures in place, but that as of right now none of the promised changes had been made.

“[The] Regina hospital staff, manager, director, the CEO, they all lied to [us],” Nyee said. “They deceived us.”

The family said they did not take the money, “as a payment for Samwel’s death.”

“We don’t need it. They deceived us, they lied to us. They are not training their staff, they are all lies. They don’t care about people with mental health.”

The SHA said in a statement it is deeply sorry about the events that lead up to Uko’s death and reiterated the apology it provided to his family in summer 2020.

The apology issued last summer, highlighted six points from a quality improvement plan:

  • An improvement of the registration and triage process by restructuring protocols.

  • Adaption to COVID-19 screening and visitation protocols.

  • Improvement of information sharing with key partner organization.

  • Addressing gaps in process for removing someone from an SHA facility.

  • Improvement to coordination of mental health supports within the Emergency Department.

  • Strengthening of culture and safety.

In a statement released Wednesday, the SHA said, “All items in the quality improvement plan have been implemented.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.

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