British Columbia

Woman in Nanaimo, B.C., claims police wellness check left her with serious injuries

Shanna Blanchard alleges she was punched by a Nanaimo RCMP officer, leaving her nose broken and teeth damaged after a wellness check in May.

Shanna Blanchard alleges she was punched by a Nanaimo RCMP officer, leaving her nose broken and teeth damaged

Shanna Blanchard alleges RCMP officers in Nanaimo, B.C., broke her nose, bruised her ribs and damaged her teeth when they were called to her house for a wellness check, May 26, 2020. (Shanna Blanchard)

Shanna Blanchard was having an emotional argument with her 21-year-old son at her Nanaimo, B.C., home on Vancouver Island one afternoon in late May, when she decided to lock herself in the bathroom.

"I've been struggling with depression through COVID," said Blanchard. "[I] lay on the floor and cried and cried and cried and cried —I was really upset."

When she refused to answer her son or leave the bathroom, he called 911.

The police wellness check that followed left Blanchard's nose broken, teeth damaged and her ribs bruised, she alleges.

Island District RCMP said it couldn't comment on the case — it has been taken over by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIOBC).

Blanchard is now speaking out about her story a month later because she thinks police should not be the people responding to calls for mental health wellness checks.

Shanna Blanchard says she was able to tear the spit hood away from her face while wearing handcuffs. (Shanna Blanchard)

She said she was already very fearful of police before the May 26, 2020, incident. When she heard a few male officers outside the room, she told them she would come out if paramedics were called.

Eventually the officers convinced her to exit the room. She alleges she was punched in the face after quickly standing up at one point — a blow that sent her to the floor where she hit her face again.

Blanchard said the officers put her in handcuffs and covered her head with a spit hood, which is used to prevent police from coming in contact with saliva.

She remembered thinking she was drowning in the blood pouring out of her nose and mouth.

She claims the final blow she suffered in the incident came as she was dropped down the stairs on the way to the front door of her house. She said her face struck the bannister.

Surveillance video outside the house shows Blanchard being taken to one of the four parked RCMP SUVs. Her is face completely covered in the white hood while she screams repeatedly.

Surveillance footage shows three RCMP officers taking Shanna Blanchard to a vehicle. Her face was covered in a white spit hood. (Shanna Blanchard)

Blanchard said after she was locked in an RCMP vehicle, the paramedic arrived and took her to Nanaimo General Hospital for treatment. She said she was given a psychiatric assessment which took less than an hour, then she was released.

"The wellness checks need be handled by mental health professionals. I asked for EMS — I requested EMS. Why did [the police] act without EMS?" asked Blanchard.

Ron MacDonald, IIOBC chief civilian director, said he expects the agency will take a few months to release a report on the case. He said its role is to determine if excessive force was used, and whether any action amounted to a crime.

"In a wellness situation, the police have, under the Mental Health Act, they have the ability to apprehend someone if they believe they're a potential danger to themselves or someone else," said MacDonald.

"There is a lot of discussion in society today about who is the best to send to those circumstances. I, of course, will leave that to others to talk about. It is a valid discussion," he said.


Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

With files from April Lawrence, CHEK News.

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