Police cell video shown at N.W.T. man's inquest

A Yellowknife inquest looking into the death of a homeless man on Tuesday watched surveillance video from the RCMP station where he spent his last conscious hours.

An  inquest looking into the death of a homeless Yellowknife man on Tuesday watched surveillance video from the RCMP station where he spent his last conscious hours.

A family photograph of Raymond Eagle, who slipped into a coma after spending 10 hours in RCMP custody in August 2006. ((CBC))

Raymond Eagle, 48, slipped into a coma in August 2006, about 10 hours after he was brought into the Yellowknife RCMP detachment. He never recovered and died in January 2010.

The N.W.T. coroner's inquest, which began Monday, heard that Eagle was first found intoxicated suffering with head injuries at a local trailer park on the morning of Aug. 3, 2006.

Eagle, who was described as highly intoxicated but still conscious at the time, told a taxi driver that he had fallen, but he later told an RCMP officer at the scene that he had been beaten up.

The officer brought Eagle to Stanton Territorial Hospital's emergency room, but Eagle was released an hour later and taken into police custody to sober up around 3 a.m. MT.

The RCMP surveillance video showed a police car pulling up to the detachment, then an officer attempting to extract Eagle from the back of the vehicle. After tugging Eagle out of the car, the officer dragged him inside the building.

Was not responsive

Reta Graham, the detachment guard who was on duty that night, testified on Tuesday that Eagle did not seem responsive when he was brought in, but his skin colour and breathing appeared to be fine.

The surveillance video then showed Eagle's backpack, shoes and pants being removed before the officer dragged his limp body by the ankles into a holding cell.

Eagle appeared limp and did not move as he lay on his back on the floor of the cell, wearing only socks, shorts and a T-shirt, the video showed.

Graham said she checked on Eagle that night but she did not recall how many times she had done so. She later recorded in her logbook that all detachment inmates were OK and sleeping, she testified.

When questioned by Eagle's sister, Margaret Eagle, Graham testified that she could not remember whether the RCMP officer who had brought Eagle into the detachment told her about his medical state.

Graham told the inquest she did not receive any patient care information from the hospital. She did know that Eagle had bumped his head, she said.

RCMP policy not followed

Const. Louis-Phillipe Goulet, who checked on Eagle later that morning, admitted he did not follow through on RCMP policy that requires officers to assess the responsiveness of cell inmates who are ill or recently injured.

Raymond Eagle's father, Tom Eagle, with his son at Stanton Territorial Hospital in 2007. Raymond Eagle never recovered from his coma and died in January 2010. ((CBC))

Goulet testified on Tuesday afternoon that he had just started his shift about 9 a.m. when he checked on Eagle and determined that he was sound asleep.

While Eagle had traces of vomit on his clothes, he was breathing steadily and otherwise did not appear to have any problems, Goulet said. The surveillance video showed the officer leaving the cell without speaking to Eagle.

But the inquest panel learned that RCMP policy states that the officer should have awakened Eagle or spoken with him in order to assess his vital signs.

The policy specifically advises officers never to assume that a person in custody is just "sleeping it off," the inquest heard.

Goulet said he knew Eagle had been in the hospital earlier that morning, but he trusted the doctors who decided to release him.

Started vomiting blood

But by noon, about 10 hours after he had been admitted into RCMP custody, Eagle's condition changed dramatically from sleeping to vomiting blood.

The surveillance video showed Eagle's body twitching, followed by him vomiting. He later lost consciousness.

On Monday, the inquest heard pre-recorded testimony from Dr. Alex Hoechsman, the emergency room doctor who saw Eagle before he was taken into RCMP custody.

Hoechsman said he had seen Eagle before, describing him as a jovial homeless man who often ended up in hospital after drinking too much.

When Eagle was brought in on the morning of Aug. 3, his speech was slurred and he had lacerations and a hematoma — a blood-filled lump — on his forehead, Hoechsman testified.

Hoechsman said he was unable to complete a neurological exam because Eagle refused to get off the stretcher or walk around. Another test showed Eagle was not at a high risk of slipping into a coma, the doctor said.

Hoechsman said he then released Eagle to the RCMP because he was still intoxicated. The doctor told police to bring him back to the hospital if his condition changed, he added.