The 2010 death of Romeo Wesley at the Cat Lake Nursing Station was ruled as accidental by the jury at the coroner’s inquest into his death in Cat Lake. The jury ruled the cause of death was “struggle and restraint (chest compression, prone positioning, handcuffing) as well as agitation and trauma (pain) in a man with a KCNJ2 mutation with acute alcohol withdrawal/delirium tremens.”
Wesley, 34, died on Sep. 9, 2010 while in custody of Nishwawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS) officers at the Cat Lake Nursing Station. He had attended the nursing station to seek help for health symptoms but the police were called for assistance after he became agitated. An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act.
“(The jury) made 53 recommendations to try to help improve things for the future,” says Dr. Dirk Huyer, chief coroner for Ontario. “One section of recommendations focused on the event, one to try to figure out how can you reduce the chance of something like that happening, so that was things like better training for police officers, different approaches of health care facilities, de-escalation approaches to try to deal with somebody who is upset.”
Huyer says there was also a focus on development of specific strategies on how police can subdue or restrain people in a safe manner.
“More broadly, there was a look at what can be done to try to help the community and the broader health care system and police services to reduce the chance of something like this ever happening,” Huyer says. “So providing better health care to the community, better approaches of health care to the community, reducing the likelihood of people to use substances or alcohol or drugs. So those were the general areas that were responded to in the recommendations.”
The jury’s recommendations included: legislation should be implemented to permit NAPS to be designated as a police force under the Police Services Act; NAPS should incorporate this incident into use of force training and other incidents that resulted in serious bodily harm or death into officer training to avoid similar harm in the future; the Ontario Police College should provide advanced training about using the prone position during arrests and prone positional restraints; Health Canada and the provincial government should ensure adequate and sufficient funding to increase physician services, specifically with a view to increasing the number of clinic days that physicians are spending in northern Indigenous communities; and Health Canada should develop a protocol in consultation with local law enforcement with respect to police intervention at medical facilities in Indigenous communities.
Huyer plans to meet with Cat Lake officials in a few weeks to discuss how the inquest process went in their community.
“From my perspective, it went very well,” Huyer says. “I was there for the closing and I did speak with Chief (Ernest) Wesley. He and I both felt very positive about everything. We had a great relationship working through and thinking through the strategies on how to hold the inquest in the community. The community stepped up and really were wonderful hosts.”
Huyer says there were 12 NAPS officers in the community for the inquest.
“That was consistent with our other approaches with inquests anywhere,” Huyer says. “We always have a security plan for all of our inquests. They were there in case there was a need, and there was no need.”
The inquest was held at the Lawrence Wesley Education Centre in Cat Lake from July 4-20. Dr. David Cameron presided as inquest coroner and David Kirk and Jodie-Lynn Waddilove were counsel to the coroner.
The jury verdict and all 53 recommendations will eventually be posted at: www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/DeathInvestigations/Inquests/VerdictsRec....