2 police officers step on handcuffed man's back as doctor watches at First Nation nursing station
Coroner's inquest examines how Romeo Wesley, 34, died after being restrained at Cat Lake nursing station
Police officers pepper-sprayed Romeo Wesley, subdued him with a baton, handcuffed him and then stepped on his back and neck with their boots on the night the 34-year-old died at the Health Canada nursing station in Cat Lake First Nation.
A security video shows that at one point, a doctor watched as two Nishnawbe-Aski police officers — one who has removed his shirt — pressed their boots into Wesley's back as he lay face down on the floor of the waiting area of the nursing station, kicking his legs.
The video seen at a coroner's inquest and obtained by CBC News and other media shows that several minutes passed after Wesley stopped moving before anyone checked his vital signs.
Police took photographs of the prone man, and a nurse was visible at various times throughout the 45-minute video mopping the floor around Wesley and offering towels to the police officers after they'd subdued Wesley.
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The video, from the nursing station's security camera, was entered into evidence last week at a coroner's inquest into Wesley's death in September 2010.
He had gone to the nursing station — the only health facility in the community — three times in two days seeking help for an escalating series of symptoms, from vision problems to trouble breathing.
Wesley died from a combination of the "chest compression with prone positional restraint" and "severe alcohol withdrawal" according to the autopsy report.
Early in the video, Wesley anxiously paces the nursing station hallway, running up to and slamming into the door to the waiting area that a local security guard held shut. Wesley suffered a deep cut to his arm as it went through the glass.
The doctor who was at the nursing station that night, Dr. Harriet Lennox, told the inquest on Monday that she feared for her safety after Wesley "lunged" at her while she attempted to assess him.
Difficult for doctor, nurses to breathe
Lennox testified that the pepper spray in the confined space of the waiting room where Wesley was pinned by officers made it difficult for her and the nurses to breathe.
The pepper spray also affected the two police officers, according to Const. Troy Sousa, who testified on Monday. The officers became covered in blood from the gash in Wesley's arm and residual pepper spray.
At one point in the altercation, Const. Chris Carson, who arrived on scene wearing a T-shirt with the image of a rifle on it, went to another room. He's later seen in the video without a shirt on, his boot on Wesley's neck, while Sousa's boot remains on Wesley's back.
Lennox said she wondered when police would consider Wesley subdued enough that she could provide medical care, "but I assumed that they had police protocols and would know when it was safe to do those things."
Although officers with the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service receive the same training as other police officers in Ontario, First Nations police services are not subject to Ontario's Police Service Act and therefore not subject to the same oversight when people are injured or die in their custody.
Proceedings are expected to wrap up next week.
The nursing station is "supposed to be a safe, healthy environment — that's what Romeo wanted," band manager Alec Oombash said before the inquest began. "He went there, and that's what cost him his life."
After years of lobbying to host the inquest in the fly-in First Nation, the community hopes it brings better health services and higher quality policing, Oombash said.
Wesley was known in the community as a good hunter who knew the land well.
Cat Lake First Nation is about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. About 500 people live there.