Coquitlam RCMP officers are not responsible for the death of a man who went into cardiac arrest after police pepper sprayed and handcuffed him, B.C.’s police watchdog has found.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. released its investigation’s findings into the Oct. 19, 2021 incident on Tuesday (Nov. 1), clearing all the officers involved of any wrongdoing.
The IIO says Coquitlam residents called 911 in the early hours of Oct. 19 last year after a man started banging his head against their front door. Police had already been out searching for him, after an earlier report suggested he had consumed an unknown amount of drugs and was wandering around outside in only a t-shirt and underwear.
The IIO says video from the scene shows the man “aggressively pursuing” the officer when he arrives. The man is told to “get on the ground” while an officer shines a flashlight at him, but he refuses, the IIO says. Video then shows an officer pepper spraying the man before a backup officer arrives and tackles the man to the ground.
The man was handcuffed and placed face down, where he began to “cough and splutter,” according the IIO. When officers checked for a pulse shortly after they couldn’t find one. The man was taken to hospital where he died two days later.
The IIO says an autopsy report states the man died from the “combined effects of delirium and multifactoral restraint,” the latter referring to the face down position he was placed in while handcuffed.
“While this position alone would not cause significant breathing difficulty, it likely contributed to breathing difficulty in the setting of a state of delirium and exposure to OC spray…there was no evidence of neck compression, significant blunt force injuries, or significant bruising on the neck, back, or chest resulting from compression/restraint,” reads a section of the autopsy report included in the IIO decision.
The autopsy report further states that the man’s drug use, cardiomegaly (enlarged heart) and exposure to the cold likely contributed to his death.
The IIO says its investigation revealed the man had been suffering from mental health challenges, addiction and medical issues for a significant period leading up to Oct. 19, 2021.
The investigations office says officers had grounds to arrest the man for mischief and detain him under the Mental Health Act, and that none of them used unnecessary force on him.
“The involved officers could not have predicted that placing (the man) on the ground in handcuffs for a brief time in his delirious state would lead to cardiac arrest and his subsequent death,” the IIO concluded.
The civilian-led office investigates all officer-involved incidents that result in serious harm or death in B.C.