Yukon police custody death a homicide: family

Family members of Raymond Silverfox, a Yukon man who died after spending 13 hours in RCMP custody in 2008, say they're appalled by a coroner's inquest that concluded he died of natural causes.

Raymond Silverfox died of natural causes, inquest panel concludes

Family members of Raymond Silverfox, a Yukon man who died after spending 13 hours in RCMP custody in 2008, say they're appalled by a coroner's inquest that concluded on Friday that he died of natural causes.

"He asked for help but didn't receive it. I truly believe it's a homicide," Silverfox's daughter, Deanna Lee Charlie, told CBC News on Saturday.

Silverfox, 43, a member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, had been kept in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment's drunk tank from about 5 a.m. PT until 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2008. When officers noticed Silverfox was not moving, he was taken to hospital, where he died several hours later.

The coroner's inquest, which began April 15 in the Yukon capital, heard testimony and evidence showing that Silverfox was left largely unattended in his cell as he vomited 26 times during the 13 hours he was in custody.

The inquest also learned that some RCMP officers and guards mocked, berated and laughed at Silverfox as he was prone in a pool of vomit and feces on the cell floor. One officer even told Silverfox to "sleep in your own shit" when he asked for a mat.

Arrested for intoxication

"We're devastated, we're in shock. We just, we don't know what to say," said Patsy Cashin, who is Silverfox's cousin.

"All I thought was, like, how could they say it was a natural cause? Because clearly all week, it showed he didn't have to die."

Silverfox had been arrested for public intoxication at a Whitehorse homeless shelter on the morning of Dec. 2, after he had spent the night drinking with friends.

Charlie said while her father was an occasional binge drinker, he was a devoted father.

Guards and officers who were on duty on the day Silverfox died testified that they had believed he was simply drunk, not getting ill.

A pathology report concluded that Silverfox died of acute pneumonia, which had developed within hours and was likely caused by him breathing in his own vomit.

4 recommendations

The six-member panel heard a week and a half of testimony before it deliberated for three hours on Friday evening.

In addition to ruling that Silverfox had died of natural causes, the panel also made four recommendations, calling on the RCMP to:

  • Establish a community consultative group to address and review the issue of public intoxication.
  • Hold regular health and safety committee meetings.
  • Increase guard staffing levels at detachments.
  • Review wages and training for detachment guards.

The inquest panel's recommendations are not binding.

However, friends and members of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation say they believe the RCMP treated Silverfox worse than an animal.

"These people, they treat their house pets better than they treated Raymond," said Dacia Lynn Tulk, a friend of Silverfox.

"If their house pets get sick, they're going to take them to the vet. But they wouldn't even call an ambulance. And now there's no justice for the family, for nobody. This is awful."

Eroded faith in RCMP

The inquest prompted the Yukon government last week to launch a public review of RCMP policing in the Yukon, but family and First Nation members say the inquest has eroded their faith in the national police force.

"I thought they were here to serve and protect. Instead, people are probably scared of them," Charlie said.

When asked if she trusted the RCMP, Charlie replied, "I don't trust them. I have no respect for them at all."

Mike Vance, a friend of Silverfox, said the inquest at least shows how the RCMP treat people in custody.

"He was allowed to be in torment and pain in the last hours of his life," Vance said.

"Now I know why they wear scarlet. It's not the colour of courage, it's the colour of shame, and they should wear it more often."