Local News

Sapikowski Lawyer: Suicide Prevention Measures Go 'Too Far'

Posted November 30, 2005
Updated December 9, 2006

— A lawyer for a Chapel Hill teenager who is accused of killing his parents claims the suicide prevention measures that the prison is taking while it holds his client are going too far, especially when there are alternatives.

Attorney Johnny Gaskin says Adam Sapikowski is being held in a strip cell, where he is not allowed to wear any clothes and is being monitored by video cameras. With just a blanket to cover himself, Gaskins says the 17-year-old even has to meet with counselors naked.

Even though about 70 inmates on suicide watch in the state prison system are held in strip cells to prevent them from hurting themselves, Gaskins claims the conditions only add to Sapikowski's mental anguish and says that the teen is not getting the psychiatric help he needs.

"It's not acceptable to me," said Gaskins, who plans to file a motion Friday to have Sapikowski sent back to a mental hospital. "He deserves to be treated humanely."

Sapikowski was moved to Central Prison in Raleigh earlier this month after doctors determined he was well enough to leave Umstead Hospital in Butner. He was sent there in mid-September after he told officials at the Orange County Jail that he was afraid he would end up doing something "crazy" to himself.

But on Nov 16, Dr. Oliver Goust, who treated Sapikowski for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, said the teenager had been showing signs of improvement and no longer needed to be placed on suicide watch.

The state decided to move Sapikowski to Central Prison under the condition that he still be treated for his depression.

While some question the method the state Department of Correction uses, prison officials say it is not inhumane and is in the inmates' best interest.

"It would be inhumane if we gave them something to hurt themselves," said Dr. Beltran Pages, who oversees the mental health services within the state correctional system.

Pages says other alternatives, such as paper jumpsuits or paper gowns, put inmates at risk of hurting themselves. Paper jumpsuits and gowns, for example, are flammable. Blankets, like the one given to Sapikowski, cannot be set on fire and cannot be ripped.

Pages says it is his department's goal to keep inmates safe and alive -- not to make things worse for them.

"Their mental illness doesn't stop here -- we treat them accordingly, he said."

Sapikowski is accused of shooting and killing his parents, James Sapikowski, 52, and Allison Sapikowski, 49, who were found dead in May at their Chapel Hill home.
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