The operational review of the police investigation into the death of a blind Halifax woman who became disoriented and fell off a bridge has reaffirmed the original finding that Holly Bartlett's death was accidental.
However, the Service de police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ), which conducted the review, criticized Halifax Regional Police for their handling of the preliminary investigation, including their lack of door-to-door canvassing, early on.
SPVQ investigators also questioned Halifax police's use of information provided by a psychic or medium.
"The Quebec police service major crime unit does not act on information provided by mediums based on the fact that this information is not considered as 'real evidence' and, most importantly, it can’t be used in court," they said in the report.
Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said the information from the psychic was provided by Bartlett's family. He said, out of sensitivity to the family, police looked into the psychic's findings but were not able to find any evidence to help the investigation.
He said it's not police policy to use a psychic during an investigation.
Bartlett, 31, was found unconscious under the bridge in the early hours of March 27, 2010. She later died in hospital. Police believe she became disoriented after getting out of a taxi and falling off a concrete abutment.
Interview with cabbie too brief
The review of the police investigation also questioned why Bartlett's Facebook account and computer weren't looked at until the beginning of this year, and why the most important witness — the cab driver who dropped Bartlett off that night — was only questioned for 25 minutes.
"[The taxi driver] should have been considered the most important witness. [He] was interviewed for 25 minutes in a place that we feel was not appropriate for such an interview. A more in-depth interview should have been conducted at the police station," according to the report.
"Based on our experience, a valuable interview can, in no way, be conducted in 25 minutes."
HRP were also criticized for bringing the Bartlett family, on the day of her funeral, to the place where she was found.
"We cannot keep under silence the incident where Holly’s family requested to attend the location where Holly was found. A different day than the day of Holly’s funeral would have been more proper. As far as we are concerned, this gives the perception of a lack of empathy," the report read.
Investigation will not be reopened, says Blais
Halifax police handed the investigation over to the SPVQ. Blais said Québec was chosen partly because they're the closest force with a major crimes unit, but also because the city, like Halifax, has two large bridge structures.
Blais clarified that this was not a reopening of the investigation into Bartlett's death.
"Their review has reaffirmed that Holly’s death was accidental, but we recognize that doesn’t lessen the impact of her death on her family, friends and community. This was a tragic accident and the passing of an exceptional person," said Blais in a news release Friday.
"Ideally, we would have liked to have answered all of the family’s questions at the time of Holly’s passing and recognize that the review process would have caused additional duress for them. We hope the completion of this review and SPVQ’s recommendations to police will be a step forward in the healing process for Holly’s loved ones."
The SPVQ's review offered some recommendations on ways the case could have been better handled including:
- More thorough door-to-door questioning of potential witnesses.
- Creating a canvassing form to tally the number of potential witnesses during door-to-door canvassing.
- Improving communication between police and the family of the victim.
During a news conference Friday, Blais said he agreed with the recommendations of the report and said the force has already implemented some of them.
"There's no doubt we must take a look at our overall processes," he said.
"There’s unanswered questions, not because the investigative tasks were not completed, there's unanswered questions because the evidence was not there."