The Comox Valley RCMP have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the April 23, 2022 death of a man in their custody.
The decision, by Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, did not come without criticisms of the system as a whole, however.
According to the original IIO report obtained by Black Press, the Comox Valley RCMP were called to a residence on the 3300 block of Kentwood Road, at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, April 23, and arrested a man for trespassing.
He was taken to the detachment and placed in a cell.
At approximately 1:15 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the man was found to be in medical distress. Assistance was provided until Emergency Health Services attended and transported the man to the hospital. The man died Sunday, April 24.
MacDonald’s report noted that the “AP (affected person) was not aggressive, rude, or angry and there was no problem or resistance between AP and the officers. The watchguard video obtained from the police vehicle also confirms that AP appeared to be co-operating with the officers and there was no use of force.”
In the decision, it was deemed that RCMP followed all protocols throughout the night, with in-person checks of the detainee every 15 minutes, as well as continual closed-circuit television surveillance, which showed the detainee “awake and moving throughout the morning hours.”
At 12:50 p.m., the man stumbled and fell into an upright seated position in the corner of the cell, where he continued to move around. His last movement, according to video evidence, was at 1:05 p.m.
“At 1:15 p.m., an officer checked on AP and found him unresponsive in the cell. Other officers were subsequently summoned and Emergency Health Services was called. Officers performed CPR on AP until the arrival of EHS who transported AP to hospital. AP was pronounced deceased the following day in hospital.”
The ensuing autopsy determined the man died of “complications from acute alcohol withdrawal, with steatosis of the liver also contributing to (his) death.”
The report noted that the man was an alcoholic who was seeking help to stop drinking at the time of his death, including taking medication to assist in weening off the dependence. The IIO investigation heard from several civilian witnesses, confirming the man’s struggles with alcoholism.
While the investigation cleared the Comox Valley RCMP of any wrongdoing, in his conclusion, MacDonald raised concerns of the system as a whole.
“Although officers met all legal standards, this case still raises concerns about how intoxicated prisoners are housed generally in British Columbia,” said MacDonald. “Officer(s) and jail guards are not trained medical personnel, and jail cells are not the best place for such prisoners. Holding intoxicated persons in police cells, ostensibly for their own protection, guarded by persons who are not trained health professionals, is an outdated practice, and proven not to adequately guarantee their safety and health. There are other options, including sobering centres, and having health professionals on-site to assist with the care of intoxicated persons. Both of these options are already utilized in various locations in British Columbia.
“I have been involved in the investigative oversight of police for over 11 years. I have seen too many persons die in police custody through no fault of the police. The care of intoxicated persons should not be a police responsibility. It is a health-care issue. It is time for government to take steps to facilitate the changes necessary to ensure intoxicated persons who need care receive it from trained health care professionals.”
The Comox Valley Record has reached out to the local detachment for comment.