Police watchdog clears RCMP of wrongdoing in 2016 death of 18-year-old woman in custody

B.C.'s police watchdog has cleared Port Alberni RCMP of any wrongdoing in connection with an 18-year-old woman who died in 2016 after spending a night in police custody.

But tribal council calls for review of police conduct toward Indigenous people

Jocelyn George died after spending a night in the Port Alberni RCMP detachment. (CBC)

B.C.'s police watchdog has cleared Port Alberni RCMP of any wrongdoing in connection with an 18-year-old woman who died in 2016 after a night in police custody.

Jocelyn George, a mother of two, was in custody when she was found in medical distress at the Port Alberni RCMP detachment on June 24, 2016.

George was transported from the detachment to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria where she died of "drug induced myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) due to the toxic effects of methamphetamine and cocaine," according to a report from the Independent Investigation Office (IIO).

George was taken into custody on the morning of June 23, 2016 for being intoxicated in a public space. She was released that afternoon but was taken back into custody that evening after a relative, concerned for her wellbeing, called police.

The IIO report says the attending officers found the teen "under the influence of drugs, unaware of her surroundings, and in a delusional state."

The report goes on to say that while in custody, a senior officer did not make personal visits to the teen — contrary to RCMP policy. It also found said that officer and a guard did not follow instructions to provide her with food and water outside the normal meal times.

No criminal conduct found

In his report, the chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald wrote those actions did not rise to the level of criminal conduct. 

"The opinion was that did not have any impact or did not lead to her death. Her death was instead caused by the presence of drugs in her system, she unfortunately had a drug addiction and that impacted her heart and that's what caused her death," wrote MacDonald.

The IIO concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Port Alberni RCMP, 19 months after the death of 18-year-old Jocelyn George. (Facebook)

George was a member of the Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations. The George family representative, Chief Councillor Richard Lucas with the Hesquiaht First Nation, said the family is distraught with the ruling, and feels the teen was discriminated against during her time in the jail cell.

"Would it have helped if they brought her in earlier?" Lucas said. "Those are questions we will never know now."

In a statement, members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) and Hesquiaht First Nation said the outcome is "deeply disappointing" and called for a review of police conduct toward Indigenous people. The tribal council oversees the First Nation of which George was a member. 

"This is not the first Nuu-chah-nulth or Indigenous person to die in the custody of the RCMP," said the statement.

"This report has not only failed to bring closure to the family of Jocelyn George who have been left with unanswered questions, but has highlighted a recurring issue present in many Indigenous communities across Canada — the unfair and unbalanced treatment of our people by police."

Andy Watson with the B.C. Coroners Service said he couldn't say if an inquest would be held in George's death.