The Independent Investigations Office of BC has cleared the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP in the death of a man shortly after he was released from custody in July 2020. (Black Press Media stock photo)

The Independent Investigations Office of BC has cleared the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP in the death of a man shortly after he was released from custody in July 2020. (Black Press Media stock photo)

IIO clears North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP in July 2020 death

James Williams, 52, had been released from custody hours earlier

A report by the Independent Investigations Office of BC has found that the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP did nothing to contribute to the death of James William Williams within hours of his release from custody in July 2020.

Williams, 52, was found dead in his room at the Warmland House shelter in Duncan on July 16, 2020. He had been arrested less than 24 hours earlier and spent most of the night at the RCMP detachment, returning to the shelter less than 12 hours before he was found dead. An autopsy determined that he died from a brain injury sustained several days earlier.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that the brain injury was caused by any police officer or jail guard,” the report from IIO chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald stated. “On the contrary, the evidence establishes that no injury to Mr. Williams, of any sort, occurred during his time in police custody.”

Nearly the entire time that Williams spent in custody was captured on video, the report noted, and there was no evidence that he was injured during contact with officers. The IIO also concluded that it was “quite reasonable” for police to release Williams and to allow him to walk back to the shelter on his own, and that a medical condition caused him to collapse in his room where he was found dead.

The IIO report is based on statements of four civilian witnesses and three police officers, as well as other notes, records, video, scene photographs and autopsy and toxicology reports.

According to the report, an officer found Williams lying in a parking lot just before 4:30 p.m. on July 15, 2020. Williams said he had drunk six beers and was calm and cooperative, but the officer still decided to take him to cells. There would be no one to monitor him if he did go to the shelter, but there would be a guard in cells, the officer reasoned.

“He was intoxicated to the point of obviously not being able to care for himself, but I also felt that he was not in a position to be brought to the sobering centre,” the officer told investigators. “He was too intoxicated for the sobering centre, but not intoxicated to the point he required medical attention.”

A half-full mickey of vodka in Williams’s jacket upon arrival at the detachment. Williams did not name any medications he was on when asked, and did not complain about pain in his chest or ribs, and had no obvious injuries when booked.

When released around 1:30 a.m., Williams told officers he had an apartment at Warmland House and asked for a taxi, but none were available after 1 a.m. because of COVID-19 restrictions. It was “common” for detainees to walk home from the shelter, about 15 minutes away, the IIO was told.

Williams was recorded on video arriving at the shelter shortly after 2 a.m. and in the laundry room around 6 a.m. A shelter worker found him dead in his room at 3:30 p.m.

An autopsy found the cause of Williams’s death to be a subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage and blunt head trauma. A small bruise found on the back of his head appeared to have been caused about seven days before he died, and the subdural hemorrhage was consistent with an older bleed about four or five days before death.

“The fact that on video Mr. Williams appeared intoxicated when brought to police cells and sober when he was released would seem to confirm that his condition on arrest was caused by alcohol abuse, and not the brain bleed that impacted him many hours earlier,” the IIO report stated.

High blood pressure and chronic alcohol misuse may increase the susceptibility to intercranial bleeds, it was noted, and the autopsy showed evidence of other serious health conditions.

It was noted in the report that the IIO does not typically name individuals who die in cases it investigates, but Williams’s family requested that he be identified, and the agency complied.

According to an obituary, James William Williams was born in Ucluelet on Jan. 12, 1968. He was the youngest of five children, and was predeceased by his parents and a brother and a sister. Williams was survived by two sons and three daughters.

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