Five B.C. RCMP officers have been charged in relation to an Indigenous man’s death during an arrest nearly six years ago.
Two officers have been charged with manslaughter, while three others have been charged with attempting to obstruct justice in relation to the July 18, 2017 death of Dale Culver.
A statement released by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Culver, a member of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations, was a beloved son, brother, friend, and father to three children when he was killed.
“We cannot shake off the devastation until justice is done,” said Virginia Pierre, Culver’s aunt who raised him, said in the statement. “This is hard on every single one of us. And we hurt each time we see police-involved deaths in the news. It happens way too much. Too many have died in the hands of the RCMP. The police are supposed to protect us, not kill us.”
According to the Independent Investigations Office, the incident began around 10:30 p.m. as police responded to reports of a man casing parked vehicles in the 1000 block of Central Street West in Prince George.
The IIO said the man reportedly tried to flee when questioned by an officer.
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“While attempting to take the man into custody, a struggle ensued between him and the officer and additional officers then arrived. OC (pepper) spray was used,” the IIO said in a May 2020 media release.
“The male appeared to be having trouble breathing and police requested medical assistance. Officers reported that the male was removed from the police vehicle when Emergency Health Services (EHS) arrived, and collapsed. The male was pronounced deceased shortly thereafter.”
Cell phone video obtained by Global News shows portions of the arrest. At one point in the video, multiple officers can be seen holding a man down, while later, a single officer can be seen pinning him to the sidewalk.
In an interview with 980 CKNW at the time, Culver’s girlfriend Alicia Wisla acknowledged he had been in and out of jail and made a living off the streets, but said he was turning his life around and was a good dad.
The IIO’s chief civilian director submitted a report to prosecutors outlining that two officers may have committed use-of-force offences, while three others may have committed obstruction of justice offences.
In a media release Wednesday, the BC Prosecution Service said charges were filed against the five officers on Feb. 1.
Const. Paul Ste-Marie and Const. Jean Francois Monette are now facing manslaughter charges.
Const. Arthur Dalman, Const. Clarence (Alex) Alexander MacDonald and Sgt. Bayani (Jon) Eusebio Cruz are facing charges of attempting to obstruct justice.
All of the officers are due for a first appearance in Prince George provincial court on March 14.
“Dale should not be a memory for us,” Debbie Pierre, Culver’s next of kin said in a statement. “He has many loved ones missing him. His youngest child was less than six months old when Dale was killed, and she will be turning six years old in a few weeks. It has taken too long to get to this stage, and we know that we are still at the beginning of our quest for justice for Dale. We hear that there may be a court hearing by mid-March related to the charges, and we know that it may take many more years before any court decisions are made.”
Culver’s eldest daughter, Lily Speed-Namox, said the family has been kept in the dark throughout much of the process.
“We want the public to know how difficult it has been for us since my dad was killed. We are making plans amongst ourselves to speak directly to the press in the coming weeks as we prepare for court proceedings to begin.”
In an email, BC RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts said Mounties had fully cooperated with the investigation, but raised concerns about the six years it took for prosecutors to approve charges.
“It put undue stress on the man’s family, our members and their families, and the community which has been looking for clarity and answers on what occurred,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts said Const. MacDonald was currently on administrative leave for reasons unrelated to the charges, while the four other officers remained on operational status.
“Their duty status is subject to continuous assessment. The RCMP will also be seeking to obtain additional information in order to inform our internal processes,” Roberts said.
Brain Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, also raised concerns about the time it took to lay charges.
“While we understand the challenges associated with insufficient funding and human resources, this delay is simply unacceptable and unfair, and British Columbians deserve better,” Sauvé said in a statement.
Meghan McDermott, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the wait for the charges was unacceptable.
“Such delays exacerbate the stress and pain that Dale’s loved ones are already experiencing and contributes more generally to public distrust of policing agencies and the oversight mechanisms purported to hold them accountable,” she said.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Philip praised the charges.
“My reaction is hallelujah,” he told Global News.
“It’s about bloody wild time that police officers — responsible for police brutality leading to the death of Indigenous Peoples, people of colour — are finally, finally being held accountable.”