B.C. Civil Liberties complaint alleges RCMP told people to delete video of arrest of man who died in custody

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is alleging RCMP in Prince George, B.C., told witnesses to delete video footage of the arrest of a man who later died in police custody.

Police watchdog investigating death of man in police custody in Prince George, B.C.

Dale Culver was 35 when he died. (Provided)

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is alleging RCMP in Prince George, B.C., told witnesses to delete video footage of the arrest of a man who later died in police custody.

The organization is also questioning whether "racial bias" played a role in the incident.

CBC has not corroborated any of the allegations raised by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Dale Culver, 35, was arrested in Prince George in July 2017. Family members say he was a member of the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan First Nations.

According to police reports, he complained of shortness of breath and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

'There's a hole in our family'

Culver's cousin, Debbie Pierre, said she wasn't informed of his death until 24 hours later, when police arrived at her home in Moricetown, 400 kilometres northwest of Prince George.

Soon after, she was able to find video footage of his arrest posted on social media.

"It was horrific," she said.

Pierre said although Culver was "known to police," he was in Prince George to get job training in order to "better" his life.

Culver was raised in Moricetown, in northwest B.C. (Provided)

She described him as a "happy-go-lucky individual" who was "raised among his cousins" in Moricetown.

Culver leaves behind three children, the eldest of whom is 14. 

"There's a hole in our family," Pierre said.

She said the family had questions about Culver's death, which led to them reaching out to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Pepper spray used in arrest

According to police reports, RCMP responded to a call of a man allegedly "casing vehicles" in a parking lot in the 1000 block of Central Street West around 10:30 p.m. July 18.

A suspect allegedly attempted to flee on a bicycle. Several officers arrived at the scene and police say a "struggle" ensued in which pepper spray was used on the suspect before he was put in the back of a police car.

The man then appeared to have trouble breathing and an ambulance was called. He collapsed when taken out of the police car and was pronounced dead in hospital shortly after midnight.

Family members confirmed the man was Dale Culver.

Complaint filed

B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Paterson said his organization has spoken with "a number of people, including eyewitnesses" who allege RCMP instructed people to delete video footage of the arrest.

Those allegations are included in an official complaint filed today to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, alongside concerns of excessive force being used during the arrest.

CBC has not spoken to any witnesses to the arrest.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Paterson at CBC Vancouver. (CBC)

The association also questioned whether "explicit or  implicit racial  bias" had played a role. It said it had been told there were "several hours" between the initial call to police and the arrival of RCMP on the scene and so had questions about whether Culvert was approached because he was Indigenous.

"We question on what information or basis the member or members of the RCMP began their interaction or questioning of Mr. Culver, and/or a request to identify himself, in the first place," read the complaint.

Pierre said she has the same question.

"Was Dale targeted because of Dale or was he targeted because of his being Indigenous?" she asked.

Police watchdog investigating

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating whether there is a connection between Culver's death and the "actions or inactions" of police.

The Prince George RCMP detachment. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

IIO chief civilian director Ron MacDonald said his organization was independently aware of allegations of witnesses being told to delete video footage but was not prepared to verify their accuracy until their investigation is complete.

He also said the IIO was made aware of questions surrounding police use of force and the timing of when Culver was arrested.

"All of that has been part of our investigation since the outset," he said. 

MacDonald said the IIO would not be releasing any conclusions or details of its investigation until it was complete, "as is normal."

Pierre said she's been assured the details of her cousin's death will be investigated fairly and transparently.

"I'm putting all of my trust in them that right will be done here," she said.

RCMP said they are waiting for the findings of the IIO investigation, and processes are in place for the IIO to notify police if they determine there is any on- or off-duty misconduct from officers that should be addressed immediately.