12 months in jail for London officer convicted in Debra Chrisjohn death

A mother of 11, Debra Chrisjohn, 39, of Oneida Nation of the Thames died in 2016 of causes related to a drug overdose. Supplied

A London police officer has been sentenced to 12 months in jail after he was convicted on two charges related to the death of Debra Chrisjohn.

The 39-year-old mother of 11 from Oneida of the Thames First Nation died in September 2016 from a cardiac arrest related to a drug overdose.

Prior to her death, Chrisjohn was being transferred from the custody of London police to Elgin County OPP.

Read more: Guilty verdict for London police officer in death of Debra Chrisjohn

In November 2019, London police Const. Nicholas Doering, who arrested Chrisjohn before her death, was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life by Ontario Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance.

In her decision, Pomerance said Doering failed to act upon obvious signs that Chrisjohn’s medical condition was deteriorating quickly while she was in his care and did not seek the medical help she couldn’t obtain for herself.

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Pomerance said Chrisjohn’s life may have been saved had medical attention been promptly obtained, and ruled his inaction was likely shaped by preconceived notions he had about drug users.

“Although there is no reason to think Debra’s Indigenous background played any role in police decisions in this case, it must be acknowledged that Indigenous women and girls are particularly vulnerable to stereotypes,” Pomerance said.

On Monday, about four years after Chrisjohn’s death, Doering was sentenced to 12 months in jail.

Read more: Sentencing decision in Debra Chrisjohn death pushed back

Shortly after the sentencing, the London Police Association (LPA), which acts as the union equivalent labour organization for more than 800 London officers, shared a statement on Twitter.

In the statement, LPA president Dave Gilmore said, “Police officers are expected to diagnose complex medical situations on the side of the road with inadequate training and equipment. Police officers are not healthcare experts yet they have been forced into performing healthcare functions for far too long.”

“We believe this decision from Justice Pomerance sets an unsustainable precedent and establishes an exacting standard of care on a system that already pushes our law enforcement personnel to their limits,” Gilmore added.

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Defence lawyer Lucas O’Hara is also quoted in the statement saying, “It was our position that Constable Doering responded as any other reasonable police officer in his position would have and therefore, his conduct did not result in a marked departure from the minimum standard of care.”

The statement also notes that a notice of appeal has been filed in relation to the sentencing.

“Applying the principles of law applicable to bail pending appeal in a case such as this I expect Mr. Doering to be released on bail pending appeal this afternoon,” said Alan Gold, appellate counsel for Doering.

“We will proceed with the appeal as expeditiously as possible,” Gold added.

Read more: Indigenous groups need to oversee police actions in Canada, commissioner says

The London Police Service also published a statement shortly after Doering’s sentencing on Monday.

Chief Steve Williams is quoted as saying he is aware of the appeal that has been filed in relation to Doering’s sentence.

“Effectively immediately, Constable Doering has been suspended from duty with pay,” he said.

“The filing of the appeal has effectively paused the implementation of the conviction and sentence pending further legal review. While this case remains before the courts I am unable to further speak to the particulars of the matter. Once the criminal process has concluded, the Police Services Act misconduct investigation will follow.”

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 — With files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan.

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