Romeo Wesley, 34, is held by police on the floor of the nursing station at Cat Lake First Nation, about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. in 2010. He died there. (Cat Lake First Nation) The jury at a coroner’s inquest into the death of a First Nations man who was pepper-sprayed, beaten, handcuffed and stepped on by two police officers has ruled the death was accidental.
The verdict was issued July 20, 2017 at the conclusion of the three-week long inquest held in Cat Lake First Nation, a remote community in northern Ontario which was home to Romeo Wesley.
In 2010, Wesley went to the nursing station in Cat Lake seeking help for a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath. A nurse became concerned about his erratic behaviour and called Nishawbe Aski Police. Romeo Wesley, 34, was a skilled hunter and valued member of Cat Lake First Nation, community members say. (Cat Lake First Nation) Two officers arrived and pepper-sprayed Wesley, tackled him to the floor, then used a baton to beat on his arms so he would move them into a position where he could be handcuffed behind his back.
Then they held the 34-year-old face-down on the floor with their boots placed on his back, head and neck until he stopped breathing.
Neither the doctor, who was visiting the nursing station, nor the nurses came to Wesley’s aid until one of the police officers asked for a check on Wesley’s vitals, after he stopped breathing.
The inquest found the cause of Wesley’s death was "struggle and restraint (chest compression, prone positioning, handcuffing) as well as agitation and trauma (pain)….with acute alcohol withdrawal/delirium tremens."
The inquest jury made 53 recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future, including: Enhancing police training regarding interactions with individuals who are experiencing a medical crisis as well as advanced training about using prone positions during arrests
Developing a protocol on police intervention at medical facilities in Indigenous communities
Ensure that all nurses working in Indigenous communities receive cultural awareness training prior to being stationed in a community
Hiring medical staff and police officers who speak the language of the community they serve
Designating Nishnawbe Aski Police Services as a police force under the Police Services Act in Ontario. Currently First Nations police services do not fall under the Act and therefore there is little civilian oversight for deaths involving their officers.
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