The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the Central Saanich Police Service of wrongdoing in an August 2021 incident. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the Central Saanich Police Service of wrongdoing in an August 2021 incident. (Black Press Media file photo)

Island police cleared of blame after man suffers heart attack, brain injury in custody

Guard was temporarily away from desk when heart attack occurred, police watchdog says

B.C.’s police watchdog says a Central Saanich police guard’s temporary departure from watching his monitor is not to be blamed for a man’s heart attack while in custody.

In a decision released Jan. 31, the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. said it found no evidence of negligence on the part of the guard or the subsequent officers who performed first aid on the man in custody.

The incident in question occurred on Aug. 8, 2021. The morning before, Central Saanich police arrested the man after receiving a complaint that he had assaulted his spouse.

Noticing the man was having some difficulty walking and keeping his balance, police called paramedics to assess him. They learned he had an extensive history of medical issues. The man refused to go to hospital, so paramedics consulted a physician and agreed that he could go to police cells.

The man was released later that afternoon on conditions not to contact his partner or go to her residence. That night, his partner found him in her living room with a black eye and bloody elbow. Police attended and re-arrested him. Paramedics tended to his wounds and he was locked in a cell for the night.

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Central Saanich Police Service policy requires that detainees are checked on every 15 minutes. Throughout the night of Aug. 7 and morning of Aug. 8, the man was checked on every 15 to 20 minutes.

Not all entries in the guard’s log could be corroborated by video because of a technical issue with the video system, the police watchdog says. And, on multiple occasions, the guard left his post to use the washroom, leaving the cell block unstaffed. This was the case when the man suffered his heart attack.

At 6:36 a.m., video showed the man having a seizure before appearing to settle into an unnatural resting position at 6:38 a.m. The guard returned to his monitor just before 6:39 a.m. and at 6:40 a.m. two officers entered the man’s cell to attempt to rouse him.

The police watchdog says the opening of the cell door blocked the video camera, but audio suggests officers used chest compressions and an automatic defibrillator on the man.

At 6:56 a.m., paramedics arrived and transported the man to hospital, where he was found to have suffered a heart attack resulting in a brain injury. He remains there.

In its decision, the Independent Investigations Office said cell checks were conducted close to the department’s standards and that a guard cannot be blamed for occasionally taking a bathroom break. It noted that when the man’s distress was noticed, officers were quick to act and perform first aid.

All negligence-based offences were dismissed.

The IIO is an independent civilian oversight agency that is mandated to investigate police-involved incidents that cause death or serious harm. There does not need to be any allegations of wrongdoing for the IIO to conduct an investigation.

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