The news over the past two days have been telling of a woman, Cheryl Miller, who was taken – against her will – to St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital after a complaint was made by one of her co-workers. There are several issues in this matter, not one of which is straightforward or simple. I will attempt to deal with them, one at a time, from my viewpoint and with reference to the law in Trinidad and Tobago. (This is also an important point, as some fool named ‘Jim Jhinkoo’ is quoting Scottish and UK Statute to define a situation in Trinidad and Tobago).
Cheryl Miller works at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. Her line Minister is none other than former social activist (and death penalty protestor) Verna St Rose-Greaves. Her Permanent Secretary is Sandra Jones, formerly PS of the Ministry of Health. Sandra Jones has nearly a decade of experience in Ministry of Health. This is important.
Cheryl Miller has been described as a little ‘strange’ by her co-workers. This was explained as follows:
“a very quiet, reserved person who would take Bristol board to block her view from the other office.” “She does not talk much. She would go to her desk, do her work. She would say good morning sometimes, and sometimes she wouldn’t”
Two weeks ago, on March 21, Ms Miller was forcibly removed from her workplace and sent to St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital. The reported circumstances were as follows:
On March 20, the day before she was committed, Miller, the co-worker said, “was having conflict with another staff member who would throw words at her then complain about her. Cheryl (Miller) would not complain.”
The staff member said on March 21, Miller was approached by an official from the Human Resources (HR) Department about the issue but when she tried to explain her side of the story, Miller was brushed off, and told, “This conversation is over’.”
She said when the HR personnel left, Miller complained that she was “being treated like a dog and that nobody was listening to her side of the story.” The employee claimed line minister Verna St Rose-Greaves then arrived and spoke with her.
“We thought that was the end of it. The minister left and Cheryl sat quietly writing an apology as advised by the minister,” said the staff member.
The eyewitness claimed another official was heard telling a colleague, “They would be coming for Cheryl Miller just now.”
Shortly after, “a big burly nurse appeared next to Cheryl. She did not interview her. She told her ‘get up and move!’ Cheryl ask her questions like ‘Why are you here? What is this about? You are embarrassing me. What have I done?’”
Now, admittedly facts are sketchy. But the co-workers who were present have, severally, given similar accounts of the situation as it unfolded. They would have to be conspiring together to protect Ms Miller if these were not true.
Facts known (confirmed by several co-workers):
- Ms Miller took abuse for a long while from a co-worker.
- She did not retaliate or become violent. She swallowed much over a period of time.
- Her protests fell on deaf ears.
- She finally ‘snapped’ and raised her voice in protest, to an HR person, who allegedly did not give her an opportunity to air her grievances.
- Despite this, she sat writing an apology for her outburst when she was taken away.
At this point, there is a grievance procedure in most workplaces which was apparently ignored. It was apparently ignored (no evidence proffered) by:
- The co-worker (who was at odds with Ms Miller) by not filing a complaint against Ms Miller.
- Ms Miller for not filing a complaint against her co-worker.
- The HR officer for not listening to both sides of the issue and not making a written report.
- The Permanent Secretary
- The Minister
At the time of removing Ms Miller, either “the Permanent Secretary or the acting Deputy Permanent Secretary asked the legal officer in the ministry, in the presence of the mental health officers, “‘Is this a public space?’, meaning the office.” When the legal officer responded positively, she said, “two men came to either side of Cheryl. They held on to her upper arms, took her out of her chair. She wasn’t fighting. She wasn’t screaming. They ushered her to the elevator and took her away.”
Here is a first point of law:
- What is a public place and did the mental health officers have the authority to remove her from her workplace?
The Mental Health Act (“MHA”) defines ‘public place’ “means any place to which the public has access with or without payment”.
That is quite clear. It is not to be confused with ‘highway’ (the whole or part of any road, thoroughfare, street, trail, trace or way maintainable at public expense and dedicated to the public use whether by way of express or implied grant, or by Proclamation of the President or by a declaration made by a local authority and includes a bridge, culvert, footway, sidewalk and the adjoining reserves accessory or adjacent to a highway).
The clarity is required because of s.15(1) of the MHA.
A person found wandering at large on a highway or in any public place and who by reason of his appearance, conduct or conversation, a mental health officer has reason to believe is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward may be taken into custody and conveyed to such hospital or ward for admission for observation in accordance with this section.
Ms Miller was clearly NOT on a highway (as defined in MHA). Nor was she, I argue, in a ‘public place’. The legal officer in the Ministry is incorrect in interpreting the meaning of public place for the following reasons:
- Ms Miller, as an employee, is working in an area the public has no access to unless by duly authorised permission.
- Access to said place would be permitted by protective services i.e security guard(s) upon presentation of legitimate reasons of access. In other words, no one can wander off the street and thereby walk into the area the incident occurred. This refutes claims it is a public place. If anyone wishes to argue this point, please, provide proof that this is not so.
- A public place is not defined as a place where public servants work. Duh!
I argue also that Ms Miller was not ‘found wandering’. She was and is an employee of the Ministry and has every right to be at her place of employment, unless she was debarred from entry. No evidence has been put forth to claim this is the case.
All reported versions of this incident belie that Ms Miller’s ‘appearance, conduct or conversation’, would give a mental health officer ‘reason to believe she is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward may be taken into custody’. In fact, if she was indeed writing an apology at the time of removal, that indicates the opposite! S.15(1) therefore cannot apply.
Let’s get to her forcible removal now.
To admit a patient for psychiatric evaluation, one must examine S.6 of the MHA.
Every person who is or is reasonably believed to be in need of such treatment as is provided in a psychiatric hospital may be admitted thereto—
(a) as an urgent admission patient;
(b) as a voluntary patient;
(c) as a medically recommended patient;
(d) by an order of the Court made pursuant to section 13;
(e) by an order of the Minister of National Security made pursuant to section 14; or
(f) on the application of a Mental Health Officer
under section 15.
Since (b), (d), (e) and (f) do not apply, we are left with (a) and (c).
Both are dealt with under s.7:
7. (1) The Psychiatric Hospital Director or a duly authorised medical officer may, subject to subsection (3), admit to a hospital as an urgent admission patient any person in respect of whom an application is made.
(2) An application under subsection (l)—
(a) may be made by any person who alleges that the person in respect of whom the application is made is mentally ill and, in the interest of his health and for the safety and protection of others, or either of them, ought to be detained in a hospital; and
(b) shall be accompanied by a certificate of a medical practitioner other than the duly authorised medical officer responsible for the admission of the person.
So, as we are told by Verna St Rose-Greaves that Ms Miller was detained for her own protection and the protection of others, then… s.7(2)(a) applies. But wait! Was s.7(2)(b) followed? Was a medical certificate obtained for a duly registered medical doctor (as defined) before admission? I hazard a guess… no. I think at this moment, people are scrambling to get a ‘backdated’ medical certificate signed. And with so many corrupt medicos (and the Minister of Health being their ‘boss’ and a medico himself), I see this happening quicker than you can say “St Ann’s”.
Now, it is also a fact as confirmed by both the sister of the detained Ms Miller and the Minister St Rose-Greaves that Ms Millers relatives were not informed. She was also medicated against her will.
“I was outside her window and a nurse came and they took her to the treatment room. When Cheryl came back, she said they injected her, she did not know what it was and she did not know what the effects were," he said. "They just doing what they want with her."
Fortune said at yesterday's visit, Miller was taking her medication orally to avoid the injections, but was still unsure of what she was ingesting.”
The Ministry of Health has a Patient’s Charter of Rights. Sections 2,3,5,6,7,8,9, 10, 11,12, 13, 15, and 16 appear to have been breached.
I may have more to say on this later as the situation develops further. For now, I exercise restraint.