(File Photo)

(File Photo)

Police watchdog clears 100 Mile RCMP of wrongdoing after man dies in Williams Lake shelter

The man had been in custody at 100 Mile RCMP detachment prior to being taken to Williams Lake

100 Mile RCMP have been cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation into the death of a man who died by suicide at a Williams Lake homeless shelter after being released from custody hours before.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIOBC) released its findings in a public report June 21, 2021, into the death of the man last year on June 27, 2020 after having earlier been in the custody of the RCMP at 100 Mile House. The decision was handed down by the chief civilian director of the IIO, Ronald J. MacDonald.

On June 25, 2020 the man, who has not been identified by the IIO, was arrested with his girlfriend in Lone Butte for suspected theft of vehicles and possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), noted the IIO decision. The couple, who according to the report appeared to be under the influence of illicit substances, both spent the night and most of the following day in police custody at the 100 Mile House RCMP detachment, with the plan of officers to release them once they were sober.

While in custody, the man’s girlfriend was taken to the local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and then to Kamloops for further assessment. The man, meanwhile, also seemed to exhibit some emotional distress while in cells, according to witnesses in the report, even wrapping his shirt around his neck at one point requiring officers to remove his clothing and give him a blanket and move him to another cell.

Officers told the IIO after being woken up, the man became distressed that his girlfriend was taken away. He was released, however, on an undertaking to attend court at a later date. Conditions included a ‘no go’ within fifty kilometres of 100 Mile House.

According to the IIO decision, officers and the man agreed they would give him a ride to the homeless shelter in Williams Lake and he could wait for his girlfriend there.

The officer transporting the man to Williams Lake stated the man’s mood “improved significantly” en route and even fist bumped the officer and thanked him for bringing him to Williams Lake and for telling his girlfriend that he would be waiting for her in Williams Lake.

After his arrival at the shelter, Williams Lake RCMP officers paid the man a visit, letting him know they were aware of his presence and to warn him against engaging in any criminal activity, noted the decision. The officers later told the IIO the man appeared to be tired and dishevelled but calm and cooperative.

Shelter staff, who told the IIO they were not made aware man may have been suicidal, told the IIO that the man later tried to contact his girlfriend and became “more agitated and emotional” when he learned she was transferred to Kamloops. The decision noted the man appeared to be crying as he returned to his room after using the telephone.

When staff at the shelter expressed concerns about his mental state, the man told them he would be ‘OK’ and accepted an offer of an introduction to local resources to assist with his emotional and addiction issues.

At 5:15 p.m. shelter staff went to the man’s room with his dinner and found he hanged himself in his room.

In an interview with IIO investigators, the man’s girlfriend stated that the couple had previously entered into a “suicide pact” by which they agreed they would both commit suicide if facing arrest. She had not told anyone of that detail, noted the IIO.

The IIO noted in this case, considering the man’s improved demeanor when he first left custody, the decision to release him was not unreasonable. The IIO also found the man was released in good faith and with a plan to find the man a supportive place to reside at the shelter in Williams Lake.

MacDonald ended his decision noting he did not consider there were reasonable grounds to believe an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment.

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