Son says police seizing deceased mother's wallet prevents him from moving on

A grieving man says he’s been dealing with unnecessary stress since Saint John police took his mother’s wallet following her death in late January.

Rick Clark understands it's protocol to take items following a death, but he says it's causing him stress

“I just wish there was someone who could help me deal with this one remaining item. I can’t move forward with this one thing hanging over me,” Rick Clark said. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

A grieving man says he's been dealing with unnecessary stress since Saint John police took his mother's wallet following her death in late January.

While Rick Clark understands it might be protocol to confiscate certain items following a death, he said he was never told what was happening and is now having trouble reclaiming the wallet.

"The only way I found out was going to look for it and not being able to find it," he said from his Bayside Drive home.

"I just wish there was someone who could help me deal with this one remaining item. I can't move forward with this one thing hanging over me."

On Jan. 27, Clark found his mother had succumbed to lung cancer while in her bed at his home.

After calling his sister, police and the funeral home immediately, Clark said he thought things went smoothly. He was escorted out of the room to give the coroner and officers space.

It was only hours later he and his sister realized the wallet, which had been in his mother's purse in the room where she died, had gone missing.

Rick Clark says the wallet would have been in his mother's purse in her bedroom when she died. He only realized it was missing after police and the coroner had left. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

"We spent approximately an hour sorting through her room, going through her drawers, under couches, trying to relocate it," he said.

Personal lawyer too expensive

After a few phone calls, he confirmed the force had seized it. And although he had hoped to use the $700 in the wallet to help pay for funeral costs, he was also told he was out of luck because his mother didn't have a will.

"[That] I would have to go to probate court to get it back," he said. "I did look into getting a personal lawyer. The approximate cost depending on the lawyer and their hourly costs can be anywhere between $1,000 to $1,500.  

"That cost is above and beyond what I'm looking to retrieve."

Tony Hayes, spokesman for the Saint John Police Force, said although Clark's position is unfortunate, he'll need to prove he has rights to that wallet.

No hard-fast protocol

Hayes said no hard-fast protocol exists for when valuables are confiscated following a death.

"It's up to the officer," he said. "But we've had situations when people have complained that we did not do this and money's gone missing."

This is the way it goes for anybody.- Police spokesman Tony Hayes

When officers are facing situations involving death, they need to obtain identification that have to go with the coroner or to the hospital, he said. Often that involves handling a wallet.

"As soon as an officer picks that up and is handling that he's kind of like the last person with this money in his hands," Hayes said.

"If it's $20, they might not seize it. But in most cases, they will seize it."

Hayes said he cannot speak to whether the officer told Clark the wallet was being taken since he wasn't there. He did say it's generally advised that officers verbalize what's being seized.

Hayes said Clark's only hope is through probate court.

"This is the way it goes for anybody," he said.

Although Clark has spoken to his MLA, he said he hasn't had much luck communicating with the police since the initial calls.

Clark said he doesn't know what he's going to do.

"I need to resolve it so I can move on," he said. "Right now, I can't."