Man caught in the ‘intersection’ of the justice and mental health systems

Tyler Steinthorson, 23, of Campbell River is back in the hospital after drinking several bottles of cough syrup

Tyler Steinthorson opens a gift on one of his good days. The 23-year-old is caught under the “intersection” of the justice and mental health care systems.

Within 48 hours of his release from jail, a young man with a history of mental health issues was in a hospital intensive care unit after drinking several bottles of cough syrup.

Tyler Steinthorson, 23, almost died last Saturday, according to his mother Rhonda Johnson. As of Thursday, he was still under care at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox, but Johnson fears it won’t be for long.

“St. Joe’s is notorious for letting him go,” she says.

Johnson advocates for mental health issues in B.C., mostly due to the her son’s experiences caught between two systems which don’t seem to offer the help he needs. Steinthorson grew up in Campbell River and is a paranoid schizophrenic with drug addiction problems.

Crown prosecutor David Fitzsimmons put it another way earlier this summer when Steinthorson appeared in court on charges of theft, assault with a weapon, assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and breaching probation.

“The intersection of the justice and mental health systems is not a good place to be,” Fitzsimmons said in Campbell River provincial court on July 22.

The charges are nothing new. Since 2010, Steinthorson has been charged several times with violent assaults, theft and breaching court orders.

Every time he’s given a psychiatric evaluation ranging from six to 30 days, and usually, at the end, he’s sent back to jail or, when he’s released, it’s not long before he’s arrested again.

Johnson can no longer take care of him and won’t because she fears for her safety and that of her younger son.

She would like to see Steinthorson receive longer term care, preferably at the Colony Farm forensic psychiatric hospital in Port Coquitlam.

But Colony Farm is just another institution where Steinthorson comes and goes, and his mother wonders where it will end.

“Somebody is going to end up dead if not my son,” she told Judge Brian Saunderson at the same court appearance in July.

Johnson also predicted that her son would be arrested within 2-3 days of his release from custody.

That didn’t quite happen, instead he’s back in hospital.

After being arrested in late June, Steinthorson was released from jail on Aug. 29, after being found criminally not responsible on the charges. But he had nowhere to go, other than a shelter, said Johnson.

Usually, she added, he will try to stay with drug users in Campbell River or he’ll simply go out to the woods. On the day after his release, he showed up at an old friend’s place, but Steinthorson wasn’t welcome because he was drinking cough medication.

He showed up at his friend’s again on Saturday and this time the buddy took him to his mother’s home in Courtenay. Johnson was surprised to see him and Steinthorson admitted to drinking five or more bottles of the medication.

For some reason, she said, he agreed to allow Comox Valley RCMP to take him St. Joe’s where he quickly collapsed and was unresponsive. Steinthorson survived, but Johnson is unsure what the next day will bring.

She fears her son will severely injure another person or will be shot by police, and that’s not unlikely given the circumstances of his last arrest.

On June 20, Steinthorson stole a five-foot-long walking stick from the Pier Street Trading Post in downtown Campbell River. As he was approached by an RCMP office and told to stop, Steinthorson walked out into the middle of the Island Highway.

Fearing he would be hit, the officer approached Steinthorson who swung the stick at her. Fortunately it missed, so she used pepper spray to subdue him.

By this time a passing motorist stopped to assist the Mountie and more officers were on the way. Two more officers joined the struggle and then more arrived. In all, it took six police officers to get Steinthorson under control.

Steinthorson is safe for now, said his mother, but when he’s released again he still doesn’t have a home, it’s unlikely he will take his medications, and he’s liable to consume drugs or more cough syrup. Meaning, of course, he will wind up back in some form of custody which he usually spends in segregation due to his violent behaviour.

Johnson has written letters to politicians of all stripes, asking for better care for people with mental health issues, particularly her son. But the help isn’t coming and she wants the public to know her son’s story.

“I’m so exhausted…don’t know what to do now…who to go to…I need to try to rest for a couple of days but I need this story to go to the media asap,” she said.

paulr@campbellrivermirror.com