“We failed as a system,” Indigenous teens psychiatrist testifies in coroner’s inquest

A coroner’s inquest examining the death of Indigenous teenager Devon Freeman, whose body was discovered near a group home in Hamilton continued today.

Cameron Wilson was 15 when he stayed at the Lynwood Charleton Centre and discovered Devon Freemon’s body in April of 2018. Freeman died by suicide, he had been missing from the Flamborough site since October 2017.

Wilson explained today how he found Freeman’s body while gathering sports equipment that had blown into the woods behind the group home’s property. “I looked to my right and I saw Devon…” Wilson said.

Wilson says he went to the group home approximately two weeks before Devon Freeman went missing. He didn’t really know him well, but he does say that the home should have done a better investigation when Freeman went missing.

“I don’t think they looked, I think they were used to it,” Wilson said.

At the coroner’s inquest today the jury heard from Freeman’s psychiatrist Dr. Roberto Sassi who began treating Freeman in 2014.

Dr. Sassi says psychiatrists need to decide if the person they are treating is a risk to themselves or others, and if so, they have a legal obligation to act. But in Devon’s case he says, “at no point in my assessment did he cross that threshold of imminent risk.”

Dr. Sassi also added that Freeman expressed fleeting thoughts of suicide when he was frustrated or angry, but these feelings didn’t seem to last. He also appeared to quickly dismiss them and talk about plans for the future.

Dr. Sassi says some of Freeman’s records were also not easily accessible. He was not aware of Freeman’s suicide attempt in May 2017 which he claims would have been taken into consideration among other factors when determining if Freeman was a risk to himself. Sassi says he was taken by surprise when he heard that Freeman died and agrees that there needs to be improvements.

“We failed as a system. We have a child who ended his life and clearly, we need to do better,” Sassi said.

Wilson is hoping that this inquest leads to changes in the system, “justice needs to be found for youth.”

The inquest will wrap up on October 21st.