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Medical examiner calls inquest into February 2020 death of woman in Thompson RCMP custody

Celine Samuel, 44, was found unresponsive in one of the detachment cells and an autopsy determined her death to be the result of an accidental head injury.
the-doorway-to-one-of-the-three-tank-cells-at-the-thompson-rcmp-detachment-used-to-house-people-deta
The doorway to one of the three tank cells at the Thompson RCMP detachment used to house people detained for being intoxicated.

An inquest has been called to examine the February 2020 death of a woman in Thompson RCMP custody who had been arrested for intoxication.

Celine Samuel, 44, was pronounced dead shortly before midnight on Feb. 1, 2020, a little more than three hours after being placed in one of the Thompson RCMP detachment’s drunk tanks.

Manitoba chief medical examiner Dr. John K. Younes called the inquest, which will look into the circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death and what, if anything, can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future. Under Manitoba’s Fatality Inquiries Act, an inquest must be called if a person was in custody of a peace officer at the time of their death.

Samuel was lodged in a cell around 8:15 o.m. and observed to be conscious and breathing at 10:49 p.m. At 11:08 p.m. she was found to be unresponsive and attempts were made by RCMP and then paramedics to resuscitate her. She was pronounced dead at 11:35 p.m.

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.

The announcement of the inquest comes five weeks after the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), the agency which examines serious incidents involving on- and pff-duty police officers in the province, concluded its investigation into Samuel's death. The IIU 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 under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), 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.

The inquest announcement comes about three-and-a-half weeks after a man detained for intoxication was found unresponsive in a Thompson RCMP cell around 11 p.m. Sept. 13 and died the next day at Thompson General Hospital.

Prior to Samuel’s death, 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 of a cell. The cause of his death was determined by an autopsy to be pneumonia. The then chief medical examiner of Manitoba said Mallett had probably been dead for six to 10 hours before his death was discovered shortly after noon. 

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.

The City of Thompson, the provincial government and other agencies are currently in the process of setting up a sobering centre in one of the former University College of the North campus buildings on Princeton Drive as an alternative to lodging intoxicated people in RCMP cells.