B.C.’s police watchdog says that a suspect who suffered a cardiac arrest and subsequent brain injury after being placed in a holding cell in Central Saanich was not the victim of negligence on the part of police and jail staff.
In a decision released by the Independent Investigations Office Monday, Chief Civilian Officer Ronald J. MacDonald detailed the series of events that led to the incident on Aug. 7 , 2021.
Officers were called to arrest the suspect at around 8:40 a.m. following an allegation that he had assaulted his spouse. Arriving officers arrested him but found he had “difficult walking and keeping his balance,” and paramedics then assessed him.
The man, who had an extensive history of medical issues, was told to go to the hospital for treatment, but he declined. Paramedics then consulted with a physician and police were permitted to transport him to holding cells.
He was released at 4:20 p.m. the same day with no medical concerns, then placed on conditions not to have contact with his alleged victim and to stay away from her home.
“Despite stating several times that he would not obey those conditions, [the suspect] was ordered released by the Court and taken by police to a motel,” the IIO wrote in its report.
Investigators say the man’s spouse came home later that night, around 7 p.m., to find the man sitting on her couch with apparent injuries to his eye and elbow. He allegedly told her someone found him face-down in the road and drove him home.
Police were called back to the residence and once again arrested the suspect.
“It is apparent that [the suspect] was frustrated and annoyed at the time, but there is no indication that any force was used against him, other than handcuffing him and placing him into a police vehicle,” the IIO wrote. “When asked what happened to his eye, [he] responded that he falls a lot.”
The man once again declined hospital treatment and was transported to a holding cell that was locked at 7:45 p.m.
IIO investigators say evidence obtained from surveillance cameras shows that as required, wellness checks were performed on the man every 15 to 20 minutes.
Throughout the night the man moved around on the cell bench, sleeping on one side or the other, and showed no signs of medical distress until 6:36 a.m. when he appeared to have a seizure, at which time the jail guard was temporarily out of the cellblock. Two minutes later, the man appeared to settle in an “unnatural” resting position. Seconds later, the guard returned to his desk, then just before 6:39 a.m., he went to physically check on the suspect. Two officers can then be seen entering the cell in an attempt to rouse the man.
“Audio of the events can be heard on recordings made by a nearby camera in the booking area. It can be heard that an officer is doing chest compressions, and an automatic defibrillator is brought to the cell and applied,” the IIO stated. “At 6:56 a.m., paramedics attended, and [the suspect] was transported to hospital.”
The man was later found to be suffering from cardiomyopathy and sustained a brain injury due to losing oxygen during a heart attack. He remains in hospital care to this day, the IIO said.
The IIO’s chief civilian director found that there was no evidence pointing to negligence on behalf of the police officers or jail guards who interacted with the man.
“Cell checks were conducted regularly and in a manner closely approximating policy standards,” he wrote. “No blame can attach to an individual moving from his post occasionally to visit the washroom.”
The man’s medical distress was spotted “very quickly” after it became apparent and the director said that all appropriate efforts were made to help him.
Because of that, he wrote, the matter will not be forwarded to Crown for consideration of charges.