Mistakes, lack of attention led to teen’s death in care: lawsuit
Nick Lang, 15, took his own life while in in ministry care in June 2015. (Handout)
The probation officer responsible for a troubled Chilliwack, B.C. teen didn’t warn his caregivers that the teen was at risk of suicide before he hanged himself – one of a series of mistakes and errors that may have cost the young man his life, claims a lawsuit from the teen’s grieving parents.
Peter Lang and Linda TenPas claim the probation officer, James Morgan, didn’t pay enough attention to their 15-year-old son Nick Lang’s case, in a lawsuit filed against the province on what would have been the teen’s 16th birthday.
These problems resulted in Nick Lang lacking support and guidance he needed and returning to a crystal meth addiction, and not preparing the facility, “HeadStart,” for his arrival, the lawsuit claims. The teen died just six days after entering the rehab facility.
“Nick received no community support during a period of extreme anxiety and temptation (other than from his parents),” the lawsuit reads. “Predictably, Nick slipped back into drug use and antisocial behavior.”
“Mr. Morgan did not raise Nick’s self-harm issues. HeadStart were consequently unaware of Nick’s self-harm issues,” the lawsuit claims.
The case is one of several high-profile examples of children dying while in B.C. government care. The case was reviewed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which concluded that despite a court-ordered intensive supervision program, the youth waited more than a month to be accepted, and had no ministry contact during that time.
None of the claims have been proven in court. Attempts by CTV News to reach Morgan were unsuccessful, and the province has yet to file a statement of defense.
This lawsuit is the first lengthy account of what happened to the teen, from the time he entered government care to the moment he died.
The blond, mop-haired teen was a hockey goalie in his early teenage years. He began to experiment with drugs including marijuana and crystal meth, the lawsuit says. Tensions about his drug use and his parents’ separation escalated to an April 1, 2015 incident where Nick assaulted his mother by holding a knife to her throat.
The RCMP were called and brought Nick to his father’s house, but the teen left. He posted to Facebook that he wished “to be dead by sunrise,” the lawsuit says. The RCMP apprehended Nick again and took him to hospital. Nick was charged with assault, and granted bail with conditions.
However when Nick breached those conditions, either by using drugs again, or by failing to show up to meetings, the probation officer, Morgan, didn’t investigate or report anything to the police, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, Morgan also relayed false or misleading information about programs available, including telling the teen that he could not contact his parents. By June 2015, Lang had been enrolled in HeadStart and was staying at a caregiver’s residence.
“Nick was visibly unwell both mentally and physically. His behavior was consistent with a person in withdrawal from crystal methamphetamine, and it included shuffling back and forth, fidgeting, clenching his jaw, picking at his hands and avoiding eye contact,” the suit says.
Caregivers assigned to Nick were new, and had not taken standard training programs provided to caregivers, the lawsuit says. “The Caregivers were not given any information whatsoever indicating Nick may be a self-harm risk and were therefore unaware of the need to closely monitor Nick for self-harm.”
He sent a number of “distressing text messages” to his mother, including one that stated, “I can’t be here it’s going to make me kill myself.” His mother relayed her concerns to Morgan, but received no reply.
On June 9, 2015, Nick Lang was found hanging by a shoelace in his closet. A caregiver relayed only that there had been a suicide “attempt.” The RCMP phoned the teen’s aunt to tell her that he was dead, and she called his parents.
After Nick’s death, both his parents did several media interviews. They were warned by government lawyers that they were breaking the conditions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which generally bans publication of details of the court hearings of young offenders.
When that warning was brought up as “heartless” by NDP leader John Horgan in the B.C. Legislature in October, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she regretted the letter was sent.