Fatality inquiry will not provide closure, says mother of disabled man who suffocated in police van

The mother of an Edmonton man who died after suffocating in the back of a police van four years ago hopes she will finally get some answers.

'It is going to be very stressful and hard to go through this again'

Trevor Proudman was 32 years old when he died after falling unconscious in police custody. (Submitted by family)

The mother of an Edmonton man who died after suffocating in the back of a police van almost four years ago hopes she will finally get some answers.

A fatality inquiry into the death of Trevor Proudman begins Monday in Edmonton Provincial Court.

Maureen Harland, Proudman's mother, said she is anxious about hearing testimony detailing her son's death. 

"This isn't going to be a closure for me," Harland said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It's going to relive the whole thing again, so I'm anxious, I'm nervous and just not feeling well about it."

"It's going to be hard. Very hard."

Trevor Proudman's mother, Maureen Harland, said she is anxious about reliving the details of her son's death. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Proudman, 32, had a rare genetic disorder known as Prader-Willi syndrome, which is linked with compulsive eating and behaviour problems.

In November 2014, he 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. Officers who checked on him 23 minutes later found him face down and unresponsive.

Unconscious and not breathing, he was rushed to hospital. Emergency workers took him to hospital and his family says doctors used drugs to restore his heartbeat, but couldn't revive him. 

He died the next day.

The medical examiner determined that Proudman died of positional asphyxia because of the way he was handcuffed by officers.

Proudman's obesity and the scoliosis of his spine combined to reduce the volume of his chest cavity and made it more difficult to breathe with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, Dr. Bernard Bannach wrote in an autopsy report released in 2015.

The Edmonton Police Service conducted a controversial internal review into the death which determined criminal charges were not warranted against the officers involved. 

Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) typically investigates in-custody deaths like Proudman's.  In this case, the provincial justice department directed the Edmonton Police Service to conduct the criminal investigation themselves.

Two months after Proudman died, EPS introduced a new policy saying prisoners cannot be left unattended in police vehicles.

'I can't bring my son back' 

Harland said she wants the inquiry judge to acknowledge the officers' role in her son's death.  Her family has waited too long for justice, she said.

"Alberta Justice ordered this fatality inquiry just so they can go through it and I guess find out ways so this never happens again to someone else, which is good, but it is going to be very stressful and hard to go through this again.

"Why couldn't they do it sooner? I don't know why it took so long for this to come about."

I don't want anybody to have to go through this again.- Maureen Harland

Harland lays the blame for her son's death on police. She hopes the court system can ensure another family doesn't suffer the same tragedy but has little faith her son's death will bring change to the justice system.

She believes her son would still be alive today if the officers took the time to properly assess her son's disability.

"I do hope this never happens to anyone ever again but I lost my son because of the way they did not deal with this correctly," Harland said.

"I can't bring my son back. My heart is broken. I've changed forever. I don't want anybody to have to go through this again. But I don't know, can't guarantee that."