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RCMP response not a factor in cell death


5 minute read

April 09, 2019

On May 13, 2017 ASIRT was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a 32-year-old man, who went into medical distress and later died following a period of custody at the Wood Buffalo South Policing Facility in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

On May 11, 2017, RCMP officers entered and searched a residence in Fort McMurray as part of a drug trafficking investigation. Once inside the residence, police located the 32-year-old man behind a locked door to one of the residence’s suites. Police negotiated with the man through the locked door, and ultimately, the man voluntarily emerged from the suite. Inside that residence, they located numerous items consistent with drug trafficking and the man was placed under arrest. The man was only wearing underwear upon arrest, and officers located clothing for him and assisted him in dressing, as he was handcuffed. RCMP transported the man to the Wood Buffalo South Policing Facility, and although the officers who dealt with him upon arrest and during transport observed some signs consistent with intoxication, there were no medical concerns based upon the man’s presentation and behaviour. Upon arrival at the facility, the man was searched, provided access to a phone, and placed inside a holding cell.

Once the man was booked into the holding facility, his movements were captured on CCTV video, providing a detailed record of the man’s time in custody. The majority of this time was unremarkable, however on two occasions, the man’s condition or behaviour raised concern with the civilian guards at the facility, and on those occasions, RCMP officers immediately responded to the man’s cell to check on his well-being. On one occasion, when the man appeared to be having some respiratory issues, EMS attended with the RCMP member but the man refused treatment, repeatedly indicating that he only had a cold. Based on subsequent observations made by an officer, a strip search was conducted but did not reveal any illicit substances on his person.

In the early hours of May 13, 2017, the man asked to call his lawyer again, and was taken to the phone room to make a call. While in the phone room, the man went into medical distress. RCMP officers immediately responded to the phone room, contacted EMS, and provided first aid to the man. EMS arrived minutes later, assumed care of the man, and transported him to hospital, where the man was later pronounced deceased.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was cocaine and fentanyl toxicity. Post-mortem toxicology reports revealed a potentially lethal level of cocaine in the man’s bloodstream, as well as metabolites of both cocaine and fentanyl. A small, torn “baggie” consistent with drug packaging was located inside the man’s stomach at autopsy.

While it is impossible to determine with absolute certainty, based on the evidence, it is a reasonable inference the man used the brief period of advance awareness of his forthcoming arrest to conceal drugs within his body that later led to him going into medical distress and ultimately resulted in his death. This tragic conclusion is only available through the compilation of the observations of numerous individual witnesses, the analysis of dozens of hours of CCTV footage, an autopsy and post-mortem toxicology analysis that provide a complete picture of what was a medical death. It is this hindsight that allows for an understanding of why the man died.

In all of the circumstances, while the man’s death is unquestionably tragic, the actions of the officers who dealt with him demonstrated concern for his well-being and responsiveness to his medical needs. The care and supervision provided to the man was reasonable and demonstrates genuine concern for his safety. There are no reasonable grounds to believe the conduct of any officer would constitute a criminal offence. As such, no charges will be laid in this case.


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