Manitoba’s police watchdog has concluded that Thompson RCMP officers’ actions or inactions did not play a role in the death of a 44-year-old woman who died in one of the detachment’s drunk tanks on Feb. 1, 2020.
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), which investigates serious incidents involving on- and off-duty police officers in the province, said in its investigation report released Aug. 26 that 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 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 woman was lodged in one of the drunk tanks around 8:15 p.m. and observed to be breathing during a cell check at 10:49 p.m. Nineteen minutes later, a cell guard saw that the woman had soiled herself and did not appear to be breathing. RCMP officers and then paramedics attempted to resuscitate her but could not and she was declared dead at 11:35 p.m.
The IIU investigated the incident because it involved the death of someone while in police custody.
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.
Prior to 2020, the last time a prisoner lodged in Thompson RCMP detachment cells died was July 19, 2008, when 37-year-ld 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. The officer attempted to awake Mallett and discovered that he was dead.
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.