Handcuffing arms behind back caused obese man's death

An obese, mentally disabled man died last November in an Edmonton police van because of the way he was handcuffed by officers, says the medical examiner.

Trevor Proudman died after he was handcuffed and left in the back of a police van

Death in handcuffs

7 years ago
Duration 2:41
A medical examiner's report is raising questions about how Trevor Proudman died while in the custody of Edmonton police

An obese, mentally disabled man died last November in an Edmonton police van because of the way he was handcuffed by officers, says the medical examiner.

Trevor Proudman died from positional asphyxia as a result of being restrained with his wrists handcuffed behind his back while in the back of a police van, Dr. Bernard Bannach wrote in an autopsy report released this week.

"This position did not allow him to breathe adequately resulting in a cardiac arrest."

Proudman, 32,  had Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder linked with compulsive eating and behavioural problems.

The syndrome and Proudman's scoliosis of the spine combined to reduce the volume of his chest cavity and made it more difficult to breathe with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, Bannach wrote in the report.

Proudman's mother, Maureen Warren, said the report she has waited seven months for lays the blame for her son's death on police.

"Their bad judgement, they caused my son to die," she said.

She wants the officers in her son's case to be criminally charged.

"If nothing comes out of this, this could happen to someone else's child."

Found face down, unresponsive

Proudman was arrested following a disturbance at a north Edmonton medical clinic, where he got into an argument with staff who called police. 

When officers arrived, they handcuffed Proudman and placed him on his side in the EPS van.

When they checked on him 23 minutes later, he was face down and unresponsive.

University of Alberta nursing professor Donna Wilson, who researches death and dying, said studies show handcuffing obese people this way can prevent them from breathing.

"This is putting someone's life at risk," she said.

Wilson wants police to develop a policy to prevent positional asphyxia.

She's supported by Jim Smith, a former police chief who has written a book called Crisis Management for  Law Enforcement.

Smith said many police forces in the U.S. have adopted policies to prevent positional asphyxia.

While not everyone is convinced handcuffing a suspect in a certain position and leaving him alone can cause death, many police services err on the side of caution. 

"A prisoner is never to be unattended," he said. "I mean, that's just common sense to me."

An internal EPS investigation is now being reviewed by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates cases where people die in police custody.


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