Vancouver Drunk Man's In-Custody Death Not Police Fault: Review

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VANCOUVER - British Columbia's fledgling police watchdog has its first major case under its belt, and its lead investigator says that despite being inundated with more files he's confident the office will mature in how it gets the job done.

The Independent Investigations Office released its first in-depth report on Tuesday, concluding there was no criminality in actions taken by Vancouver Police officers in the course of handling a drunk man who lost consciousness and died.

The case took 58 days to wrap and was the first to receive the full reporting treatment of the IIO, although it was the second file the office officially closed.

In 13 weeks since the office opened its doors, it has received 10 cases looking into serious incidents or deaths involving RCMP or independent police forces around the province. Eight cases are still under investigation.

"We're very busy right now. We could go several weeks without an additional case, or we could have an additional case today. Reality is we were resourced knowing we'd have to deal with this kind of unpredictability," Rosenthal told reporters at his office in Surrey, B.C.

"I believe we're ready for whatever might come in the door."

The file announced to the public on Tuesday occurred on Oct. 7, after officers responded to an supper-hour call of a man causing trouble in a Vancouver park.

The officers determined the man, whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, should not be arrested or go to detox, so they offered him a ride to his house. He accepted.

The 51-year-old man was placed in the back of a police van without handcuffs, but when they arrived at the man's home seven minutes later he was found unconscious. Paramedics performed resuscitation and transported him to Vancouver General Hospital, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Six investigators with the office examined the case that resulted in the final report.

Rosenthal said that processing the case likely took longer because the office is still developing its reporting methods, and how that operates will continue to evolve with feedback and over time.

"I expect that a year from now, cases are going to look different than they do now," he said.

"No matter how much you hypothesize, until those cases really come to fruition, there's always going to be those changes."

The first file closed involved a woman who suffered serious injuries when she jumped from her apartment balcony in Penticton in late September just as Mounties arrived on the scene. Rosenthal said their actions were not linked to the woman's decision to jump.

The other cases that remain open include four officer-involved shootings, two motor vehicle incidents, an in-custody death in which a Taser was used and another file in which a person was injured during arrest.

Rosenthal said the office is looking at completing all those investigations in a matter of months, not years.

"Certainly a much more timely fashion that has been done in the past," he said.

All the resources the office has been given are being fully used, he said. Only the directions of the government would prompt the office to open cases that date back before the office launched, he added.

Rosenthal said the office has now worked with most of B.C.'s major police agencies — except for Victoria — and he described their co-operation as "remarkable."

He noted he does not yet know if the family of the deceased Vancouver man is satisfied with his findings, but expects to learn their feelings after they have an opportunity to thoroughly read the report.

The B.C. government created the office after recommendations of two high-profile public inquiries into police-involved deaths: Robert Dziekanski, who died after being stunned by a Taser at Vancouver's airport, and Paul Frank, who froze to death after being dumped by an officer in a Vancouver alley.

It has ended the practice of police investigating police.