A mentally ill man was found dead, upside down inside a gallon of water, at Tafa’igata Prison on Boxing Day, last week.
Hans Dalton, 38, lives in New Zealand. He was in Samoa to visit his relatives when Cyclone Evan struck the country. When he came to Samoa,Mr. Dalton was under medication for a “thought disorder.”
According to his mother, Christine Bowker Wilson, her son’s medication required him to take it everyday. When Cyclone Evan hit, there was no electricity and no water. At Fagali’i where Mr. Dalton had stayed, he could not find his tablet on the night of the cyclone.
The next night, Mr. Dalton tried to take his tablet but could not keep it down.
“He was vomiting,” said Mrs. Wilson.“So he missed two doses; and that was enough to make him very ill.”
His sister, Natasha Dalton, who was in Samoa at the time, took Mr. Dalton to see psychiatrist Dr. Ian Parkin, at the Mental Health Unit, in Motootua. There he was given an injection. This, however, made him agitated and very angry.
He reacted and puncheda door of the only room at the Mental Unit. Because there was no longer a place to keep him, Dr. Parkin and the nurses referred him to the Police Station in Apia.
“My daughter said the staff at the hospital told the police, ‘You must look after this man; he is not a prisoner,” Mrs. Wilson said. “They stressed that Hans had not done anything criminally wrong – he was just sick.”
Instead of keeping Mr. Dalton at the Apia station, the Police took him to Tafaigata Prison.
On Boxing Day as the family was getting ready to visit Mr. Dalton at Tafa’igata, Police officers turned up at their home and told them that Mr. Dalton had died.
Mrs. Wilson, meanwhile, was on her way to Samoa from New Zealand. She was greeted with the bad news when she arrived at Faleolo Airport.
From the airport, Mrs. Wilson and her family went straight to the hospital, where they waited for hours to see Mr. Dalton’s body. When they finally brought his body out, Mrs. Wilson said her son had brain fluid coming out of his ears. He also had severe head injuries and bruises all over his body.
“I told Ian (Parkin) and he said Hans had a fractured skull,” she said. “I know he banged his head on the wall, because people do that when they’re in that condition; but if you see someone doing that, you don’t just let them – you try and stop them from hurting themselves.
“We were told that the walls at the prison are made of concrete – but even so, we were told by people in New Zealand that Hans could not have been killed that way.”
Mrs. Wilson said police told her that prisoners were calling out; saying they could hear “weird noises” coming from Mr. Dalton’s cell.
Asked how she believes her son died, Mrs. Wilson said, “I think it’s very dangerous to assume. I don’t know if it was another prisoner or one of the staff. I think at the back of it all is a lack of understanding of mental illness.”
Asked for a comment, Assistant Police Commissioner Le’aupepe Fatu Pula confirmed Mr. Dalton’s death. Le’aupepe said Mr. Dalton’s death was “an alleged suicide.”
The Assistant Commissioner said that when Mr. Dalton was bought to the Police Station, he was “agitated and very violent.”
The Police, he said, saw that Mr. Dalton could not be held at the station.
“The station was too busy,” Leaupepe said. “There were people from different walks of life in the cells…there were complaints of screaming and violence by Mr. Dalton so that’s why it was decided it would be best to take him to the prison.”
Le’aupepe explained that inside the cellblocks at Tafaigata Prison, there are gallons of water for the toilets.
“It is alleged that Mr. Dalton jumped inside the gallon head first, and that is why we suspect it was a suicide.”
Mr. Dalton was alone in his cell, Le’aupepe said. Asked to explain the alleged bruises and the head injuries Mr. Dalton had, Le’aupepesaid it is “possible he sustained the injuries from jumping into the gallon.”
ButMrs. Wilson is not convinced.
“One thing I’m very sure of is that my son did not take his own life,” she said.
Mrs. Wilson was not allowed inside the prison.
“I asked for all the reports…I asked to go to the prison to see where it happened,” she said.
“But all I’ve seen is a paper from the hospital saying he was found upside down in a gallon of water and when he arrived he was already dead.”
Asked what her son was like as a person, Mrs. Wilson said he was “a gentle and sensitive person with the most beautiful soul.”
She said her son’s death highlights the need for appropriate mental healthcare services and facilities in Samoa.
“You can’t hold mentally ill people in rooms with glass, and the Unit needs more than one room,” Ms. Bowker Wilson said.
Mr. Dalton’s body was flown to back to New Zealand early Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilson said; “The truth will always come out. Amongst the darkness, there’s always light.”
Talk around the country today will no doubt be focused on the health, present and future, of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.
For transparency, accountability and good governance to flourish, the availability of public accounts on a timely basis is absolutely critical.
In Samoa we have always done art or as a world-acclaimed Samoan choreographer would say, “made art”.
The government’s “proposal” to ban traditional gift giving in a bid to curb bribery and corruption during the elections is a step in the right direction (see story of the Samoa Observer on Monday).