The family of a woman who died while in the custody of White Rock RCMP five years ago say they are still waiting for answers, including whether any changes to prevent it from happening again will be recommended.
“I don’t think the IIO has forgotten about us in any means,” the woman’s daughter, Ely Wilson, said May 19, noting she has had regular contact with Independent Investigation Office officials over the years. “I think there’s some bureaucracy going on behind the scenes that’s slowly been impacting the investigation.”
The IIO began looking into the death of Patricia Anne Wilson after she was found unresponsive on the morning of March 29, 2016, four days after her arrest and less than four hours after she had been assessed by paramedics.
Ely Wilson said that she and her siblings know from a coroner’s report that their mom died from blood poisoning, and that the 58-year-old had asked for medical help “several times” prior to being found unresponsive.
They don’t know if the septicemia was linked to drug withdrawal, or why she wasn’t taken to hospital, but they believe a lack of training may have played a role in her death.
“Because she was an active drug user, her body went into withdrawals, and although she requested to receive medical service several times, she wasn’t taken to the hospital,” Wilson said.
“And so it’s our feeling that the people who were working at the jail didn’t have adequate training or an adequate ability to understand the fact that drug withdrawals can be deadly to people, and that they didn’t listen to her when she requested help.”
IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald said Wednesday that the case is the agency’s longest investigation to date, and that it remains to be seen whether the matter will be referred for charges. There are times when investigations lead to “some commentary” suggesting opportunities for improvement or change, he said.
As example, MacDonald cited a 2019 case in which an individual died in Kamloops cells. That investigation cleared the Mounties of any wrongdoing, however, “I, at that point, publicly stated the use of sobering centres is something that ought to be looked at more – (that) it’s probably better not to hold intoxicated persons, whether it be by alcohol or drugs, in police cells, but other facilities where there might be medical attention more readily available may be a more appropriate way to handle those types of situations,” MacDonald said.
“In (the White Rock) case… it may well be a circumstance where we will go forward with some comment.”
Describing the case as “very unique in nature,” MacDonald said it “has involved and is involved with an extensive review of a number of things, including not only the facts of this case, but RCMP policy and practices surrounding these types of cases.”
Obtaining the materials necessary for that review from RCMP required “discussion with the commissioner on this matter to help,” he continued.
“That took some time,” he said. “Our request was different than normal, and I don’t want to get into the details of that. But to be fair to them, it wasn’t a usual request. We had a conversation about it and they were co-operative thereafter, it just took them a long time to gather the information that we were looking for. And now it’s taking us a long time to go through it.”
Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls, who took over the helm of the White Rock detachment in late 2019, said he could not comment on the IIO investigation “until they release their report.”
MacDonald said he is hopeful the investigation could conclude later this year. He noted the IIO’s increased case load – it doubled this past fiscal year to 232 compared to two years ago – has limited the resources that can be devoted to it. As well, the pandemic “has made us a little less efficient.”
Wilson said her mom was a “super outgoing… super social” person who struggled with addiction through her adult life, but particularly after the death of her own mother. She “tried really hard” to overcome it, and had periods of sobriety that stretched as long as five years.
Noting her mom isn’t the first intoxicated person to die in police cells, Wilson said her family’s focus is on ensuring others are spared a similar experience.
“People have died before because of it. We just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.”
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