A former sheriff’s officer is calling for change in New Brunswick Sheriff’s Services
Natalie Doucet is calling on Justice Minister Troy Lifford to make inquiries into how complaints are handled in the department and to implement new policies to protect inmates and the public.
“I would ask them, `Do you even know what’s going on? Do you know about this accident? Do you know the hell I went through?'," said Doucet. "I want them to find answers. I want the minister of justice to start making an effort and making regulations.”
In June 2013, about a year after a violent sheriff van crash in which she was a passenger, Doucet was informed her contract with Sheriff Services would not be renewed. She had struggled with why she had been let go for months, but now says she questions whether it was because she was outspoken, in a place where she says complaints were not properly handled and policy was lacking.
"They’re trying to hide evidence”
Doucet read a recent CBC News report on internal emails showing officials in Sheriff Services noted “We have the media on the story now” and had requested any emailed or printed-out copies of photos of the crumpled van that crashed be recalled or destroyed. She said reading it caused her to question why her contract had not been renewed.
“…having someone say `I wanted to put the fear of God in them,' in those employees to destroy those photos. After I saw those reports in my mind I realized why I’ve been going through all this. Were they doing the same to me? They’re trying to hide evidence,” she said.
“Was I just a coverup? Was I just made to shut up and not talk about this?”
"Fabrication of stories”
Doucet says she had complained in the past about about one sheriff’s aggressive driving and that the day of the crash she’d worried the van was travelling too fast.
“I was looking at how fast he [the driver] was going and he told me, 'I'm not even going fast. I'm going below the speed limit. I'm just doing 80; there's cars passing us.'”
When the van left the icy highway it flipped at least three times, injuring everyone on board. Two inmates would file lawsuits against the province. Mark Langille, an inmate who was seriously injured in the crash says he too thought they were going too fast.
“I looked over the driver's shoulder from the back and I saw he was doing 80 kilometres an hour. and on a snow-covered road where visibility was almost zero, that just to me didn't make any sense. We were very concerned.”
Doucet says she fractured two vertebrae and twisted her pelvis in the accident, but says that physical pain was only the beginning of her struggle.
“But I’m still rolling in that van. I’m still rolling. That day never finished for me. It’s been hell.”
Doucet was off duty on compensation for four months following the accident. She says she returned when her compensation was cut off, but she felt something was seriously wrong. She learned that shortly after her return, a formal complaint had been filed against her by three co-workers.
“We the undersigned respectfully request that we do not have to take Natalie Doucet as an escort. We have lost all trust in her over the past year. We are concerned that her constant fabrication of stories will affect our employment, personal and family life.”
Doucet says she thinks the complaint was written because she had been outspoken in the past about the driving habits of sheriffs. She says she had complained to her superior that another sheriff’s officer had road rage, that he tailgated and used offensive language talking about other motorists.
The officer she says she complained about and the driver of the van on the day of the crash were two of the people who alleged she was fabricating stories.
She says after their complaint was investigated her superiors told her it was found to be baseless, and that in fact she had been harassed.
“The investigation concluded that these accusations against me were non-founded. But harassment was done,” she told CBC News in a recent interview.
CBC News is waiting for a response from the government regarding the allegations of harassment and road rage.
A statement of defence filed by the province in one of the inmate’s lawsuits says the driver oif the van the day of the crash was a prudent operator and “it was reasonable, in the circumstances prevailing at the time, to operate the vehicle on the highway in order to transport the prisoners.”
RCMP attribute the accident to road conditions. The driver did not respond to CBC queries.
"I did not include Head Office in this email."
An email obtained by CBC news shows there was another instance where concerns were raised over sheriffs’ driving – this time after the accident, by RCMP. But questions remain as to how it was handled.
CBC News obtained a Sept. 26, 2012 email last week which was written by a senior sheriff in the province and distributed to his ‘fellow sheriffs’. In it he states he was visited by an RCMP sergeant, who told him sheriff vans had been “caught on radar at high and inexcusable speeds ie: 134km/hr, 147 km/hr, and 152km/hr” and said it was a warning they would be ticketed if caught speeding again.
The email closes by asking the warning be passed on to staff, and a note in bold lettering:
“Please note that [the RCMP officer's] visit was an informal one as we have known each other for a long time. As a result, I did not include Head Office in this email. You may wish to do the same when informing your staff of his concerns.”
The Justice Department has not responded to CBC News’ query as to what happened with this warning.
"It’s going to take someone to die”
Doucet says that she had been out on inmate transport trips in white-outs and torrential rains. She said there were times she didn’t want to go. But she says going on the trips was a way to work towards a step up in the ranks, and saying no would have been a bad career move.
“There was sometimes you want to say no but if you say no, like I’m not a [transportation] officer I was a court officer. They would just use us as escorts. If you said no, they would take someone else,” she said.
A government document recently obtained by CBC News states Doucet showed exemplary professionalism during the crash and its aftermath.
“You reacted quickly and efficiently in a difficult situation and, in so doing, showed exceptional commitment to your job. We wish to convey our sincerest appreciation on behalf of each of us and the Department of Justice and Attorney General," it read.
She now wonders why she never received the commendation and wonders why an employee that shows that commitment would be let go.
“I would really like to have a chance to talk with the premier. I would really like to talk to minister of justice. Tell me what’s just in this. One event. One unfortunate event. Is it unfortunate that I lost, that I went through hell? Not just with the accident but everything after that?”
“I sound angry but I’m not. I just want the respect of them to come see me or meet with me and tell me how you could run a government when there is information being destroyed, when there is harassment, that no one knows about. I want answers. And I think a lot of people in New Brunswick want some answers.”
Justice Minister Troy Lifford said Friday he couldn’t comment on individual personnel issues. He has said he's called for a review of all Sheriff Services policies, and has made an order that all sheriff vans be equipped with global positioning systems. GPS could alert the department to speeding. That pleases Doucet, but she says it’s not nearly enough.
“If policies aren’t made for the speed, for the driving in weather, for seatbelts, it’s going to happen again. It’s going to take someone to die.”