'Unacceptable': Prince Albert Grand Council concerned about 2 recent police custody deaths
The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is raising concern about two police custody deaths that occurred within days earlier this month.
“If you have the power to detain people then you have the responsibility to ensure they are safe,” said PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte.
Both men were pronounced dead in hospital, but their deaths are being investigated as in police custody.
On Oct. 5, a 29-year-old man went into medical distress as the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) investigated a disturbance at the Victoria Hospital.
He was transferred to hospital in Saskatoon “due to the seriousness of the medical distress,” police said in a news release, and was pronounced dead on Oct. 12.
Then, on Oct. 8, police arrested a 35-year-old man.
He was remanded into custody and was found unresponsive in his police cell on Oct. 11. He was transported to hospital and later pronounced dead.
Hardlotte called for “transparency and accountability” during the external investigations.
In an emailed statement, PAPS said the RCMP is investigating one death and the police service is investigating the other, overseen by an independent observer.
Hardlotte said both men were Indigenous and family members have reached out to him voicing the need for change.
He, along with vice-chiefs Joseph Tsannie and Christopher Jobb, said the police service must implement recommendations from past inquests, hire more Indigenous officers and provide cultural awareness training.
Hardlotte said this would give police a better understanding of the challenges Indigenous people face, such as addictions, that stem from historical trauma.
“PAPS should not be in the business of locking up individuals who have underlying medical conditions if they are not professionally equipped to do so,” Hardlotte said.
“Anything short of having proper medical staff and equipment to make sure prisoners are safe is unacceptable.”
In the statement, PAPS pointed to a partnership with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and Parkland Ambulance. A paramedic is on site in the police detention area every night from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.
PAPS said it also supports the Police and Crisis Team, consisting of mental health professionals and police officers. The unit connects people with local support agencies.
“The police service continues to be accountable and transparent, and has improved oversight and supervision in our detention area, enhanced training for staff, and implemented programs aimed at better supporting vulnerable members of our community,” reads the statement.
“The police service remains open to continued discussions and opportunities for enhanced engagement on policies and issues affecting vulnerable residents in our community.”
Coroner inquests are mandatory in Saskatchewan when deaths occur in custody, except for when the person died of natural causes and it was not preventable.
Hardlotte said the PAGC will be reviewing recommendations made during past inquests, as it could take years before inquests potentially take place for these two deaths.