For the second time in less than 20 months, a person detained for public intoxication in Thompson has died while in police custody.
Manitoba’s police watchdog agency – the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which looks into all serious incidents involving on- and off-duty police officers – has launched a probe into the death of a man who was arrested Sept. 13, found unresponsive in the cell later that night and transported to Thompson General Hospital, where he died on Tuesday.
Thompson RCMP told the IIU that the man was arrested under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA) around 6 p.m. He was found unresponsive around 11 p.m.
The IIU recently issued its investigation report into a 2020 death of a 44-year-old woman in Thompson RCMP cells after her arrest under the IPDA.
It said the woman’s cause of death was a combination of acute alcohol intoxication and a subdural hematoma – a collection of blood outside the brain, usually caused by a head injury.
Video footage from McDonald’s, where the woman was detained for public intoxication before being lodged in RCMP cells showed her falling off a stool twice and appearing to strike her head on the floor, the IIU said. The woman was medically assessed by Thompson Fire & Emergency Services paramedics prior to being placed in the drunk tank.
The woman had also been treated in Winnipeg two weeks earlier for an intercranial brain bleed and told officers that she had seizures.
Before that, it had been 12 years since someone arrested by Thompson RCMP died while in their custody.
In July 2008, 37-year-old Jeffrey Ray Mallett was found dead on the floor in the corner of the cell near the door when the prisoners were being moved out for meals. The cause of his death was determined to be pneumonia following an autopsy conducted by Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, then the chief medical examiner of Manitoba, who said he believed Mallett had probably been dead for six to 10 hours before his death was discovered when an RCMP officer entered the cell shortly after noon to move Mallett to a holding cell, because he was going to be charged for breaching an undertaking not to consume alcohol.
In her report on an inquest into Mallett’s death held in 2012, 2013 and 2014, provincial court Judge Doreen Redhead recommended that Thompson establish a detoxification centre similar to the Main Street Project in Winnipeg to provide rehabilitative services and programs to people with substance abuse problems. She also recommended that medical assessments be done before a person is lodged in RCMP cells under the IPDA to ensure they do not have any pre-existing medical conditions, a procedure that had already been put in place before her inquest recommendations were issued.
Prisoners lodged in cell at the Thompson RCMP detachment are supposed to be physically checked every 15 minutes and those in the drunk tanks are woken up every four hours to assess their condition.