IMH patient's dad jailed for hitting doctor

Unhappy that a psychiatrist had rejected his request that his mentally ill son be discharged from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), a retiree punched the doctor several times.

Japanese Morio Sato, 62, was yesterday jailed for 10 weeks after he admitted to punching senior consultant Sajith Sreedharan Geetha, 49, on the right forearm at IMH at about 9.30am on Dec 8, 2016. The psychiatrist suffered tenderness and a bruise.

Two other charges of punching and kicking an Aetos security officer and pushing a medical worker were considered during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Quek Jing Feng said Sato's 29 year-old son, who has autism spectrum disorder, moderate intellectual disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was admitted to IMH on July 19, 2016, under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act. His parents were unable to handle him because of his aggressive behaviour at home.

Sato and his wife attended a series of family conferences at the IMH. Dr Sajith explained the need to continue detaining their son but Sato was generally resistant to the treatment suggestions of the IMH medical team.

At a session on Nov 7 last year, Sato insisted that his son be discharged, but Dr Sajith told him of his son's multiple incidences of aggression at IMH. Sato was asked but could not give an assurance that he would not get into a physical altercation with his son if he was discharged.

On hearing that he could not go home, Sato's son became distressed and slapped his head repeatedly. Sato blamed the doctor and his team for the situation, demanded that his son be discharged immediately, and created a commotion.

Sato, who has been living in Singapore for more than 10 years, thought that his son would be warded and treated like a patient in a hospital and did not realise that he was being legally detained and the implications of that, said the lawyer.

On Dec 8, Dr Sajith handed a memo to Sato to explain the reasons for his son's continued detention at IMH. But Sato again sought the immediate discharge of his son. This this was rejected by the doctor.

On hearing this, Sato became agitated and lunged towards Dr Sajith, shoving aside medical social worker Kelly Koh Ching Ling in the process, causing her to fall to the ground. Sato threw punches at Dr Sajith, who used his arm to block them.

The panic alarm was triggered to activate the IMH crisis response team. When the Aetos security officer tried to restrain Sato, he punched and kicked him. Police were called and Sato was arrested.

Sato's lawyer, Mr Ahmad Firdaus Daud, assigned by the the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, said in mitigation that the offences arose from a momentary lapse of judgment. "This was a one-off burst of violence caused by pent-up frustrations over a long period of time given the stresses of his son's detention in IMH and his wife's cancer treatments," he told the court.

Sato, who has been living in Singapore for more than 10 years, thought that his son would be warded and treated like a patient in a hospital and did not realise that he was being legally detained and the implications of that, said the lawyer.

Sato could have been jailed for up to seven years and/or fined for causing hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2017, with the headline 'IMH patient's dad jailed for hitting doctor'. Print Edition | Subscribe