The overdose death of a man in Campbell River RCMP lockup last June was not the result of any “culpable failure” of the police.
Nor was there any evidence that the overdose victim was not monitored properly, according to a report by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C.
“I do not consider there are reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment and therefore the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges,” Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director of the IIO of B.C., concludes in the March 17 report.
The IIO was brought in to investigate the death of a man who was taken into RCMP custody on June 23, 2022 in Campbell River. The IIO investigates incidents in B.C. in which a person suffers injury or dies in actions involving police officers.
The man (who the report does not identify, referring to him as the Affected Person or AP) smuggled fentanyl into the cells on his person and then subesequently overdosed on the drug.
“Despite first aid attempts by police and transport to hospital, AP did not recover and was later declared deceased,” the IIO report says.
The IIO was notified and commenced an investigation.
The IIO report says police were called out by a 911 call informing police at 10:27 p.m, June 23, 2022 about a man breaching his court conditions. The caller said AP was not attending an addictions centre as ordered and was using drugs.
An RCMP officer (identifed only as Officer 1) arrested AP for causing a disturbance and transported him to the Campbell River RCMP detachment. AP was noted in the booking sheet as possibly being impaired by drugs and was searched by Officer 1 before being put in a cell.
While being booked, AP was told to take off his coat which he did and a hoody that he was wearing over a t-shirt. AP said he prerred to keep the hoody on so Officer 1 removed the hood drawcord and AP’s hat, shoes and belt. The officer then went through AP’s pockets, turning them inside out. The whole process is described as calm, respectful and pofessional. AP is cooperative throughout.
At 11 a.m., AP is put in his cell and lies down on the bench and pulls a thin foam mattress over himself. At 1:21 p.m. Officer 1 enters and gives AP a blanket. AP moves on top of the mattress and covers himself with the blanket.
AP can then be seen moving under the blanket until 7:48 p.m. when the light is turned down. Guards then conduct routine checks as required by RCMP policy.
At 11:02 p.m., a guard approaches the cell for a check, kneels at the door to listen, then brings a loudspeaker which he holds against the door playing music and shouting to attempt to rouse AP. Civilian jail guards in RCMP detachments are not permitted to open cells to interact with detainees without an officer present.
The guard then went to the custody desk to get assistance and at 11:10 p.m. an officer enters the cell and takes the blanket off AP and removes what appears to be a butane lighter. Once he was found to be in medical distress, AP received immediate first aid treatment from officers, including Narcan, the use of a defibrillator and chest compressions. AP was removed from the cell by paramedics around 11:18 p.m. and taken to hospital where after initial stabilization, life support was discontinued at 9:50 a.m. Cause of death was attributed to fentanyl toxicity.
“There seems no doubt that the drugs responsible for AP’s death were brought by him into the cell,” the IIO report says in its conclusion.
Searches of detainees during the booking process are intended to ensure that substances of that sort, as well as items that could be used as weapons or for self-harm, are located and seized.
“That process evidently failed in this case,” the report says.
But the evidence indicates that Officer 1 conducted a reasonably thorough search. Finding the drugs would have required a strip search and under Canadian law, such an “intrusive search” is only justified where there are reasonable grounds to believe the detainee is hiding contraband in a way that would elude a conventional search.
“Those grounds were not present in this case, so it cannot be said that Officer 1 was negligent or that he committed any offence by not removing AP’s clothing for a more complete search,” the report says. “AP’s death was not the result of any culpable failure of the part of Officer 1. It was the result of AP’s decision to smuggle lethal substances into his cell and his subsequent decision to consume them.”
There were no recommendations included as part of the report.