Jury recommends more training for caseworkers
Teen hanged himself in transitional home
Corrections worker Dion Fitzpatrick says he is scarred by the trauma of finding Colin Kaotalok, 18, hanging from a ceiling pipe at Uttaqivik correctional centre on Nov. 22, 2001.
“I couldn’t sleep for six months. To this day, I will not go into the laundry room unless someone is with me,” the correctional case worker testified during the two-day coroner’s inquest into Kaotalok’s death in Iqaluit Jan. 28 to 29.
A three-man, three-woman jury unanimously agreed Kaotalok died from asphyxiation after he hanged himself sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the laundry room of the transitional home for Baffin Correctional Center inmates. The Cambridge Bay teen was serving the remainder of a 10-month sentence for aggravated assault and probation violations.
Kaotalok’s suicide note and a statement from his on-again, off-again girlfriend were reviewed by the jury but were not made public.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Wayne Podmoroff testified Kaotalok was “in better mental health and more able and capable than most other inmates.”
“There were no signs of depression and no reports of [Colin] not getting along [with other residents],” said Trevor Barton, another community residential centre worker.
However, an autopsy found trace amounts of marijuana in Kaotalok’s blood stream, the jury heard. The presence of marijuana and a vial of “clean” urine found on Kaotalok suggested the teen knew he might be subject to a drug test.
The vial of urine also suggested Kaotalok was “making efforts to beat the test,” Michael Chandler, the lawyer representing the coroner’s office said.
Uttaqivik residents are subject to random drug tests at the discretion of staff members.
The jury recommended the installation of more windows and close circuit surveillance television throughout the house.
“[There should be] more intensive training for caseworkers, especially in the areas of counselling, suicide prevention and substance abuse,” the jury’s one-page statement says.
Most corrections workers receive two-day classes in suicide intervention when they sign on with the department of justice.
At one point, confusion arose as to who had been Kaotalok’s caseworker. The jury recommended “there be better communication between all parties to be clear who the caseworker is for each resident.”
Uttaqivik is a 12-bed correctional facility run by the department of justice. The residence is typically for Baffin Correctional Centre inmates who have demonstrated they’re ready to serve their remaining sentences in a monitored but unstructured environment.
None of Kaotalok’s family members were present for the inquest. Chandler said that Kaotalok’s mother Mary was notified of the inquest by letter. He said she did not reply.
Also absent were the Kitikmeot MLAs who suggested Kaotalok’s death is evidence the region needs its own correctional facility.
Inquests determine how, when, where and why a person died, and present recommendations to prevent similar deaths. An inquest is not a trial and no one is accused of any crime. Deaths occurring while a person is under the care of the Government of Nunavut are subject to inquests under the Coroner’s Act.