The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) has cleared Ponoka RCMP officers of any wrongdoing after a 59-year-old man arrested for public intoxication passed away in hospital on Sept. 11, 2020.
ASIRT Executive Director Michael Ewenson’s full report was released on Aug. 31, 2023.
ASIRT concluded the man had fallen twice before his arrest resulting in a brain bleed, however, his behaviour didn’t make it apparent he was suffering from anything other than intoxication.
The report stated there were no reasonable grounds to believe any officers committed any offences.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we know that (the affected person) should have been medically assessed before being lodged in cells. Whether this would have averted the tragic outcome will never be known,” said Ewenson in the report.
ASIRT states they interviewed all relevant civilian and police witnesses, reviewed all available video evidence and considered the findings of the medical examiner.
From witness statements and other evidence, a timeline of events was established.
On Sept. 9, the man visited with an old acquaintance at their residence in Ponoka. While there, he became intoxicated and fell, hitting his head.
He received medical attention for a cut over his left eye, which resulted from the fall. A CT scan showed no abnormalities and after getting stitches and a bandage for the cut, he was released from the hospital.
The next day, Sept. 10, the man again went to the acquaintance’s residence, became very intoxicated and urinated in his pants, according to witnesses.
The residents of the home then wished the man to leave, and assisted him outside, leaving him on the step outside.
ASIRT determined the man fell off the step, striking the back of his head, “unbeknownst” to anyone. One of the residents checked on him sometime later and called him a cab.
The cab driver knocked on the door but left when there was no answer. One of the residents then called the police reporting an intoxicated male in the area of n the area of 46 Avenue and 55 Street.
Officers located the man lying on his back in a parking area. He was conscious, though appeared heavily intoxicated. He had responsive communication and walked with officers.
When the officers knocked at the residence, there was no answer. With “nowhere else” to take the man, he was taken to the detachment to be lodged in a cell until sober.
A guard was tasked with monitoring him.
The report states the man fell twice more while in the cell, hitting his head both times. The guard summoned an officer who conducted a physical check on him. The man reportedly stated he was OK besides his eye being sore.
The guard continued to monitor the man and noted he was visibly breathing. When the man didn’t respond to the cell door being kicked, the guard notified an officer.
The officer found the man unconscious and unresponsive and an ambulance was called.
At the hospital, it was found the man had a large brain bleed. He was placed on life support, but later that evening it was removed and he passed away.
An autopsy found the immediate cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head with liver cirrhosis considered a contributing factor.
In some instances, RCMP policy dictates an individual receive a medical check before being lodged in cells.
Some of those factors include if a person shows signs of being unconscious, signs of a head injury or a reported head injury, or alcohol poisoning.
The report stated while a person in custody by police is owed a duty of care, video footage shows the individual was very intoxicated. However, it was “less clear” that his condition necessitated medical assessment as he showed no signs of alcohol poisoning.
It further concludes all officers involved believed they were only dealing with a heavily intoxicated individual, with nothing to cause them to have concerns otherwise.
Ewenson stated it was clear officers had minimal physical contact with the man. Once the man was noticed to be in medical distress, medical attention was sought.
“While (the man) was transported to hospital alive, his condition deteriorated, and he sadly passed away later that day,” said Ewenson.
He added if anything could be done differently in the future as far as policy or training would be for a fatality inquiry to determine.
“While (his) death was untimely and tragic, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that any officers committed an offence.”
The full report can be read at open.alberta.ca.