Mother seeks answers in son's death while in custody of Fort McMurray RCMP

More than a year after Rodney Brown died of a drug overdose while in police custody, his mother wants to know if officers did enough to save her son's life.

'He was just left to die there without being given anything to help him'

Rodney Brown died in RCMP custody in May 2017 in Fort McMurray. (Provided by Elsie Brown)

More than a year after Rodney Brown died of a drug overdose while in police custody, his mother is still trying to find out if officers did enough to save her son's life.

"(This has been) extremely, extremely stressful. Because I think he should still be here," said Elsie Brown. "My whole family's life has changed."

Brown, who lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador, said she has been given little information about how her 32-year-old son died at the RCMP Wood Buffalo detachment.

Rodney Brown was arrested on suspicion of trafficking cocaine on May 11, 2017, and taken into custody to await a bail hearing.

An autopsy report said the day after he was arrested, Brown was found breathing heavily.

Hours later "green residue and green mucus" were found on Brown's nose, the report said. He told officers he was a heavy drug user. He was strip-searched, but no drugs were found.

Brown was examined by medical staff, but he was not taken to hospital.

Medical distress

The next day, Brown asked to make a phone call and was moved to a secure room, according to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which examines incidents involving police that result in serious injury or death. 

Four minutes later, an officer heard a noise and found Rodney on the floor in medical distress. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.

The autopsy found Brown had a high level of cocaine in his system, along with traces of fentanyl. Fragments of a plastic baggie were found in his stomach.

The autopsy report also revealed that Brown had heart problems consistent with high blood pressure or long-term use of stimulant drugs.

His body showed no signs of trauma or injury.

Brown's mother said the report points to a preventable drug overdose that officers should have reversed with lifesaving drugs, such as naloxone.

Her son should also have been taken to the hospital at the first sign of health issues, Brown said.

Fatality inquiry coming

Brown didn't know the extent of her son's drug use or if he trafficked drugs, but she said even if he had an addiction, police are compelled to protect the safety of those in custody.

"It needs to be known. He was just left to die there without being given anything to help him," Brown said. "And that eats me up."

The province intends to conduct a fatality inquiry into Brown's death, but it won't begin until ASIRT completes its investigation, said spokesperson Paul Matwychuk.

While ASIRT's investigation is complete, it is awaiting review from the executive director.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.