Kelowna Mountie’s inaction didn’t lead to death but he could face other consequences: police watchdog

FILE. The IIO is the Independent civilian oversight agency of the police in British Columbia. It investigates all officer-related incidents that result in serious harm or death, whether or not there is any allegation of wrongdoing. Global News

A Kelowna Mountie won’t face criminal charges for a weak attempt at a wellness check for a person who ended up dying, but B.C.’s police watchdog was critical of his inaction in a report issued this week.

Early Jan. 10, someone called the Kelowna RCMP detachment and asked police to check on someone living in an area apartment building, according to a report issued Thursday by the Independent Investigations Office.

They were not well, chief officer Ronald J. McDonald wrote in the report, and with no family or friends in the area, the caller felt they had no recourse other than to ask RCMP for a wellness check.

An officer, who ended up being the subject of the Independent Investigations Office complaint, went to the apartment and made what’s described as a half-hearted attempt to locate the person but was thwarted by an unlabelled door directory.

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“A video recording from the lobby shows (the officer) appearing outside the front door, examining the building directory and then leaving,” McDonald wrote.

The officer was there for around two minutes.

Nearly two hours after that visit to the doorstep, the officer returned to the apartment to assist paramedics for what was deemed a sudden death. The person whom the officer had been told to do a wellness check on had died.

Click to play video: 'RCMP officer broke police policy: IIO report'
RCMP officer broke police policy: IIO report

It was later determined the person died of natural causes the night earlier, though, when the officer was there, that wasn’t yet clear. He failed to tell his supervisor that he was at the apartment building earlier, and hadn’t followed through on a wellness check he’d been asked to complete.

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When this came to light, the negligence investigation was sparked.

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“The officer’s failure in this case to properly comply with his sworn duty to protect life was significant and came at least very close to and quite likely crossed the criminal negligence threshold,” McDonald said.

The officer went to the wellness check knowing the man was gravely ill and was no longer answering his phone.

“After the RCMP got the call to check on a very sick person (the officer) almost immediately abandoned his investigation after being stopped by the building’s front door,” McDonald said.

“There were other options he could have pursued but he failed to take any, other to call the complainant back and tell her to get someone else to do the job he had been tasked to do.”

This officer’s duty was to protect life, which in these circumstances, McDonald said, meant making a serious effort to check on the well-being of the person whom the call was about.

“That should include more than just walking away upon being unable to determine how to access the building,” McDonald said, listing contacting other building residents or even forced entry as options that weren’t even explored.

“His actions showed a poor regard for the potential that (the person) was in a grave physical state.”

It’s simply because the man died of natural causes before he arrived that the officer’s negligent behaviour doesn’t rise to the bar of criminality and McDonald said that’s why he wouldn’t recommend a charge.

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“(The officer’s) inactions may well constitute a breach of RCMP police and practice, which is a matter for their professional standards branch to address,” he said.

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