Man dies while in custody at the Philipsburg police cells

Sjamira Roseburg, Attorney-At-Law


PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — It is very unfortunate and unacceptable that today a man passed on while in custody in the holding cells of the Philipsburg Police station. The deceased was suffering from mental health problems.

‘“While authorities are fully aware of this, according to the authorities the mental health patient could at the time of his detainment not be placed in the care of the Mental Health Foundation due to concerns with his aggression that may have been caused by drug use. In addition to this, the Mental Health Foundation is presently overcrowded,” said Roseburg.

The man, who had been in police custody since July 18, 2021, and as such the responsibility of the Government of Sint Maarten, was according to the authorities being observed daily by the Mental Health Foundation and monitored by guards, however without solace.

“Based on the circumstances of which authorities are fully aware of the patient’s mental health challenge, detaining the deceased and holding him at the Philipsburg police station was simply unacceptable,” states Roseburg. “In recognizing that there is indeed a great lack for better care/service in this regard, it is yet imperative that those whom it concerns, do better.

Placing someone with a mental health condition in a police cell without 24/7 monitoring should have never occurred. Previous mention of the need to pay closer attention to the mental and psychological problems in the prison system on Sint Maarten was made by my colleague Mr. Hatzmann, to no avail. The man should have been institutionalized at the Mental Health Foundation or another institution such as Turning Point where he could have been monitored 24/7 and receive the necessary care respectfully.

Had this been the case, the now deceased could have still been alive. Evidently, the gentleman received inadequate care during his time detained in the police cells.”

The attorney continued: “It is furthermore no secret that St. Maarten is currently ‘making the best’ of its situation and we acknowledge this, however at who’s or what expense? What legal basis was used to detain the gentleman and how long was he supposed to be there? Who agreed and monitored this? At the third day of incarceration, you officially need to see a judge. This did not take place.

Is or was there an agreement signed between mental health and the police station? Based on what legal basis and approved by whom?  Did the victim agree and/or sign said agreement? Did he agree with detention in either the Mental Health facility or at the police station? Did he agree to receiving medication and did he receive proper medical care? What took place the past few days? What kind of medication did he receive? What was the cause of death? Could this have been prevented? These are some of the questions left unanswered.

He was also placed in the police cell and at no point was an attorney contacted to represent the gentleman nor was he informed of his rights in the respective circumstances.”

Someone with mental challenges cannot just be detained in the police cells of Philipsburg, Roseburg stressed, “and specifically not if the person was kept in custody against their will.  Moreover, the prison guards are understaffed, and consequently proper monitoring is affected. Prison guards are also not equipped or trained in handling/observing the mentally challenged. In this instance, the need of a medical specialist at hand was an urgent requirement. The death of the gentleman took place while in the care of Government.

This is unacceptable and we cannot turn a blind eye to this happening. Proper procedures should be always followed especially where people’s lives are possibly at risk. There have been three reported deaths in less than a year following the administering of injections to persons with mental health challenges. We need to take a closer look!”

Roseburg concluded: “It is my hope that this message serves as yet another cry to the Government of St. Maarten to take action so that a situation like this does not happen again. A facility should be established with urgency where patients like this can be accommodated accordingly. How many more deaths are there to be before action is taken? All lives matter. We have more patients like this on the island who are ticking time bombs. They can hurt themselves, and/or someone else. This list of patients should be revised, and arrangements should be made for them to be accommodated in the appropriate facilities.”