Agencies ponder coroner’s jury recommendations

Recommendations stem from death of young Terrace, B.C. resident

THE CITY of Terrace and other public sector bodies are preparing to take the next steps after being asked to respond to recommendations from a coroner’s report into the 2013 death of a young woman.

Alyssa George, 25, also known as Alyssa Oleksiuk, died in Vancouver General Hospital Sept. 10, 2013 after being found in medical distress while lodged in the Terrace RCMP detachment cells.

The coroner’s inquest verdict noted George’s immediate cause of death was failure of multiple organ and systems due to metabolic acidosis and respiratory depression as a consequence of acute and prolonged ethanol and substance abuse. Her death was classified as natural.

The inquest jury listed 16 recommendations addressed to the City of Terrace, the RCMP, the Northern Health Authority and other health care agencies.

Once the recommendations and supporting documentation from a provincial coroner are officially issued, the agencies have 60 days to respond and are in the middle of that period now.

The recommendations cover everything from increased monitoring of people placed in police cells to more training for those who watch over people placed in police cells to investigate the possibility of opening a medical detox centre here.

Jonathon Dyck from the Northern Health Authority said it and other agencies have already had discussions.

“We have already met with other community agencies named in the recommendations to begin the conversation about how to better serve people with addictions,” said Dyck.

“At the meeting there was a consensus to have a further meeting to engage the broader group of organizations in Terrace that provide service/care to this population. This will happen as soon as it can be arranged, and more information will be provided as it becomes available.”

A RCMP official said it takes coroner service recommendations seriously.

“They are reviewed by our Criminal Operations Branch who research them thoroughly with all stakeholders and provide a full written response directly to the Coroner on each and every recommendation,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen.

City of Terrace official Alisa Thompson acknowledged the city’s interest in responding to the recommendations.

“Addictions treatment has been something that the city has been urging for years now,” she said.

“We have been meeting with Northern Health at the staff level regarding access to addictions services and will continue to work with them.”

Thompson said that since the city owns the RCMP detachment and leases it to the police force, any physical changes to the detachment stemming from the inquest recommendations would come under its watch.

Cell block guards are also paid by the city.

George was placed in cells here after being arrested on outstanding warrants – a warrant for theft and assault in Terrace and warrants for her arrest out of Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan. The arrest was Sept. 3, 2013 after police responded to a call about a civil dispute between landlord/tenant on Kalum Street.

About 14 hours after she had been taken into custody at the Terrace RCMP detachment, she was found in medical distress in cells, and was taken to Mills Memorial Hospital and later flown to Vancouver, reported police at that time.

A coroner’s inquest was held into her death here in October 2015.

During the three-day inquest, presiding coroner Donita Kuzma and a jury heard evidence from more than 15 witnesses under oath to determine the facts surrounding this death.

After six hours of deliberation, the five-person jury made 16 recommendations – the jury’s role was not to find fault.

Among those recommendations:

To Northern Health/First Nations Health Authority/ Ministry of Health, City of Terrace

– A committee / focus group should be established to investigate the construction of a proper medically staffed substance abuse/detox centre in the City of Terrace to service all outlying areas. This should include one or more substance abuse doctors and counsellors

To the RCMP

– The RCMP C13 form filled out on a person being booked by the police cells guard and arresting officer “requires additional space for initial medical info/questioning/survey/screening, such as when was last intake of alcohol or drugs; taking any medication/what/ dosage; pre-existing medical condition; and allergies

– Consider all policies/procedures and standards as mandatory, not best practices

– Ensure RCMP watch commander performs and is accountable for physical (in cell) checks every four hours of all prisoners in all cells

To the RCMP and City of Terrace

– Guards must follow/adhere to existing policies/procedures (in their operational manual) concentrating on the four Rs of rousability, watch command four-hour prisoner check, guard “physical” check every 15 minutes

– Use of closed-circuit TV should be used as a secondary backup to physical check

– RCMP/guards should use the cell check log appropriately

– To assist the guards doing the physical cell checks, the hall lighting could be reduced, or a matte coating on cell door window to reduce the glare from the above lights

– Consider reducing medical assessment time to eight hours

– Discuss having a second guard on duty at all times

– Investigate upgrading the closed-circuit TV system to include larger monitors with the ability to focus on one cell, ability to zoom and pan feed while maintaining the source feed for the recording, audio microphones at each end of the hallways free of background noise