VANCOUVER — A civil rights group has filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, alleging officers told witnesses to delete cellphone video of the arrest of a man who later died.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed the complaint under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act on Tuesday in the case of Dale Culver. The association says the 35-year-old Indigenous man was arrested in Prince George last July.
An RCMP news release issued at the time says there was a struggle between officers and a suspect on the night of July 18, 2017.
The Mounties said police received a report about a man casing vehicles and an officer who responded found a man who tried to flee on a bicycle. There was allegedly a struggle between the man and the officer, who called in other officers for help.
The news release says pepper spray was used and officers noticed the man appeared to be having trouble breathing after he was placed in a police vehicle. He collapsed immediately after being taken out of the vehicle, police said.
The man was taken to hospital, where the RCMP said he died.
The civil liberties association makes a number of unproven allegations in its complaint to the commission, including that the circumstances of Culver's arrest constituted "excessive force." It questions why police approached Culver because it says it understands the initial complaint to police about a man casing vehicles was made several hours earlier.
"In addition, this tragic incident, as it has been described, gives rise to a question as to whether RCMP members’ actions may have been affected by explicit or implicit racial bias, given Mr. Culver's status as an Indigenous person," the complaint asserts.
Josh Paterson, executive director of the civil liberties association, says in a letter to the commission that the group "is aware of reports from eyewitnesses that state that Mr. Culver was taken forcibly to the ground by RCMP members immediately after exiting a liquor store, apparently unprovoked."
The letter goes on to say: "It is unclear to the BCCLA what circumstances existed to necessitate the use of force on Mr. Culver."
Paterson also says the association has "learned of troubling allegations that RCMP members told witnesses to delete cellphone video that they had taken."
"If these allegations are true it would be evidence of an intention on the part of RCMP members concerned to hide the truth of what happened in this incident."
RCMP Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau said the force is aware of the group's concerns and is waiting for the findings of a review being conducted by the provincial Independent Investigations Office in the case.
If any misconduct is found, the RCMP spokeswoman said it will be addressed immediately through an internal process.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission has received the complaint, but is waiting until the Independent Investigations Office has completed its work before determining what steps to take, said spokeswoman Kate McDerby.
The civil liberties association has asked the commission to either "take carriage of the investigation of this complaint, or monitor this investigation as closely as possible to the extent of (its) statutory authority."
It does not name any of the witnesses who have made unproven allegations in its complaint, which also cites unverified media reports about the arrest.
The Independent Investigations Office looks into any death or serious injury in B.C. that involves police. It forwards reports to the prosecution service if they find an officer might have committed a criminal act.
The commission is a national body that makes recommendations on changes to the RCMP's policies and procedures.
The Independent Investigations Office is still looking into the circumstances of the arrest, said Ron MacDonald, its chief civilian director.
The investigation includes allegations that witnesses were told by RCMP to delete cellphone video of the arrest, he said.
"We've been aware of those allegations from the beginning of the investigation. And that is included in our overall investigation," MacDonald added.
MacDonald couldn't say when his office's investigation will be complete. RCMP witness officers involved in the arrest have co-operated with investigators and the office is now waiting for third-party reports, including the results of an autopsy, he said.
MacDonald said investigators are interested in speaking with anyone who witnessed the arrest or has information about the case.