A Whitehorse RCMP officer broke down in tears Wednesday as he told a coroner's inquest panel about a crude remark he made in 2008 to Raymond Silverfox, who died in police custody hours later.
Const. Geoff Corbett said he spoke with Silverfox, 43, on Dec. 2, 2008, while the Carmacks, Yukon, man was being held in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment's drunk tank.
Silverfox, a member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, had spent 12 hours in custody on Dec. 2, after he was picked up early that morning at a Whitehorse shelter. He was found in medical distress that evening and later died at Whitehorse General Hospital.
The inquest panel has heard that Silverfox spent much of his time in custody vomiting and defecating in his cell.
However, officers and guards have testified that they did not get medical help for him, with some assuming he was simply intoxicated. The inquest has heard that Silverfox had consumed alcohol with friends on the previous night.
Denied request for mattress
Corbett testified on Wednesday that when he arrived at the detachment cells that afternoon, a guard showed him Silverfox's cell. About 60 per cent of the cell floor was covered in a brown liquid, he said.
Corbett said Silverfox asked him for a mattress to sleep on. Corbett denied that request.
According to a transcript from a cell-block videotape, which was read aloud to the inquest, Corbett told Silverfox, "No, you can sleep in your own shit," then later added, "Yeah, you need a pizza, too?"
Corbett testified he was angry at the time because he assumed Silverfox had intended to defecate in the cell.
But in his own notes following Silverfox's death and in his statement to RCMP investigators, Corbett altered his statement to Silverfox to say, "No, you can't have a mat."
Corbett began to cry during his testimony, agreeing that his original statement was unprofessional and disrespectful. He said he would take that statement back if he could.
Family blasts RCMP, guards
Members of Silverfox's family sobbed as they listened to his testimony at the Whitehorse courthouse.
Afterward, about 50 people gathered outside the courthouse as Silverfox's sister, Debbie Silverfox, said she was outraged at the behaviour of the officers and guards at the Whitehorse RCMP detachment.
More damning details came Tuesday during the testimony of Heather Balfour, the guard who was on duty for much of the day on Dec. 2.
Balfour conceded that she knew Silverfox had been vomiting profusely all day, but she thought it was because he had consumed alcohol the night before.
When she first saw Silverfox in his cell at 7:39 a.m., Balfour observed that he was curled up in the fetal position, dry heaving and moaning. However, she said, she didn't think he was in physical distress.
"It sounds like he's calling a moose," Balfour remarked at the time, according to transcripts from the cell-block video.
Vomited 23 times
Lee Kirkpatrick, the counsel for the Yukon coroner's office, then took Balfour through the RCMP detachment video recording, in which Silverfox was seen vomiting 23 times over the next eight hours.
Just after 1 p.m., Balfour had rebuked Silverfox, saying, "Why don't you go puke in the toilet instead of all over the floor? Go puke in the toilet — you're going to have to clean this up."
Silverfox was then seen crawling to the toilet, where he vomited again before he curled up in a ball on the floor.
Then, just before 4 p.m., as Balfour's shift was ending, Silverfox crawled to the cell door and knocked on it.
The inquest panel heard an audio recording of several RCMP officers and guards laughing and making remarks about Silverfox's cell around that time, with one saying, "That is gross, that is."
Added another, "That is really disgusting."
"He's just rolling around in it," said a third guard, followed by more laughter.
The inquest continues through this week.