On paper, 72-year-old Peter Brooks presents little suggestion of the violence he’s alleged to have committed.
No criminal record, no trace in his medical file of dementia or any mental illness that could lead to aggression, police say.
But within the walls of the Wexford Residence, a long-term-care facility for seniors in Scarborough, a far different portrait of the man had taken shape.
Residents and staff said Mr. Brooks was the subject of several complaints about violent, erratic behaviour – raising difficult questions about when a care facility should remove a resident to protect the others.
On Thursday, Mr. Brooks was charged with second-degree murder after a resident was killed, and with assaulting another. A week before, staff at the Wexford warned administrators about Mr. Brooks’s escalating aggression, their union said.
“Staff did express concerns that this individual was violent,” said Candace Rennick, a regional vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents workers at the facility.
Victor Boughannam, a resident of Wexford, said he gave Mr. Brooks a wide berth. “A lot of people did,” he said on Friday, leaning on his cane outside the eight-storey complex on Lawrence Avenue East. “He was nervous, jumpy. It was easy to upset him.”
Just after 11 p.m. on Wednesday, around the time staff were holding their nightly shift-change meeting at the second-floor nursing station, an attacker slipped into the third-floor room of Joycelyn Dickson, a 72-year-old resident whose partial paralysis rendered her virtually defenceless, according to Naomi D’Souza, former chairwoman of the facility’s family council. Police later seized a weapon, but would not confirm multiple accounts that it was a walking cane.
Later, the man went after another resident on the second floor, 91-year-old Lourdes Missier, Ms. D’Souza said.
The violence touched off a panic. Residents “were screaming and there was no staff to stop him,” said Ms. D’Souza, who was not present for the attack but heard several witness accounts.
Ms. Dickson, described as well-liked and outgoing, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ms. Missier fared better because “she had two hands and fought him off,” said Ms. D’Souza, whose late mother was once Ms. Missier’s roommate. She is in fair condition at Sunnybrook hospital.
The tragedy has renewed concerns about low staffing at the Wexford. “You’ve got to ask: Where was the staff during all this?” said Matthias Jetleb, a former vice-chairman of the facility’s family council, whose mother lives there. “This guy … he wasn’t exactly a swift person at that age – can’t see him moving that fast.”
Mr. Jetleb said he has long been concerned about inadequate staffing levels, which sometimes lead to delays responding to residents’ call buttons. Inspection records at the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care show complaints filed against the residence last year range from failure to have written plans of care for each resident to abusive behaviour by staff.
However, Mr. Jetleb blames politics for the problems arising from short staffing. “I think that this is a tragic consequence of bare-bones funding,” he said.
Staff members have complained that they are saddled with an increasing amount of government paperwork and have less time to monitor residents, Mr. Jetleb added.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said staff at her ministry are investigating the incident at Wexford.
Both victims knew the accused. Ms. Missier, in particular, tried to avoid him. “She was afraid of him. If she was watching TV and he came there, even if he sat far, she would leave,” Ms. D’Souza said.
They weren’t the only ones uncomfortable around him.
A couple of years ago, Mr. Jetleb said, Mr. Brooks lived on the fifth floor but was transferred to another level after just a few weeks because he had trouble getting along with his roommate, Mr. Jetleb said.
Mr. Jetleb’s mother, who is 69, also expressed concerns about Mr. Brooks.
“She was uncomfortable with him because he did seem to be – I’m reluctant to say aggressive – he was loud,” he said. “It was the sort of thing where you just want to steer clear of the person.”
The day before the fatal assault, the accused tried to hit a nurse, said one woman who knew Mr. Brooks.
The woman, who did not want her name published because her relative lives at the facility, said she tried to calm Mr. Brooks down by telling him to count to 10.
“Don’t do that, that’s not nice,” she told him, the woman said.
He seemed confused and asked her for his medication.
The only drug she was aware that he was taking was Metformin, which is for people with Type-2 diabetes.
She said she had also seen Mr. Brooks berate his family when they came to visit him last summer.
She said Mr. Brooks was in the dining room with two female relatives and a teenaged girl and was yelling to them, “Go away! I don’t want to see you!”
“He had confrontations with everybody,” she said.
Mr. Jetleb cautioned that Mr. Brooks’s behaviour didn’t outwardly seem extreme. “In hindsight, you look at it and you say, okay, outbursts. ... But nothing seemed out of the ordinary.”
Mr. Brooks’s next court date is set for April 4.
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