London

When in doubt, call paramedics, cops told after officer found guilty in woman's death

London Police Association sent a letter to its members encouraging officers who doubt the health of an individual to “immediately arrange” for an EMS medical assessment or to bring that person to hospital.

Following Const. Nicholas Doering's guilty verdict, officers advised to call paramedics

The incident happened inside headquarters on Dundas St. on September 6, 2017 (Kate Dubinski/ CBC News)

London Police Association sent a letter to its members encouraging officers who doubt the health of an individual to "immediately arrange" for an EMS medical assessment or to bring that person to hospital.

The memo follows a court ruling Friday that found Const. Nicholas Doering guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to Debra Chrisjohn, 39, of Oneida Nation of the Thames.

The woman was high on meth when Doering arrested her in September 2016. During trial, the court heard that a paramedic who came to the scene told the officer that her vital signs would likely be "out of whack" because of her drug use, and he would have to spend hours waiting with her in the hospital emergency department. 

Doering didn't ask for a medical assessment. 

Chrisjohn's condition deteriorated as the officer drove her to a rural intersection and transferred her to OPP custody on an outstanding warrant. Her condition continued to deteriorate while in OPP custody. Provincial police called paramedics, and Chrisjohn was taken to hospital where she died.

"You have no way of knowing how much of a substance a person has consumed," said a copy of the London Police Association letter, obtained by CBC News.

"Although they may not be symptomatic at first contact, clearly within 45 minutes the presentations of their health make you ultimately responsible to engage medical intervention," it said. 

The letter also tells officers to be clear with health professionals that they're asking for a medical assessment, and tells them to take detailed notes of interactions where they encounter resistance.

"This is a minimal approach members should take as it appears that this is now the new standard for duty of care for police officers with persons in their care within the province of Ontario," the letter reads.

"This decision has the potential to cause a ripple effect across the province and impact the very way we deliver policing on a day-to-day basis."

CBC News has reached out to the London Police Association for comment.

London Police Chief Steve Williams sent out his own internal memo following the guilty verdict, reminding officers they assume risk when they arrest someone – and that they have responsibility for the welfare of people in police custody. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

London Police Chief Steve Williams sent out his own internal memo following the guilty verdict, reminding officers they assume risk when they arrest someone, and that they have a responsibility for the welfare of people in their custody.

"It's a changing landscape out there. More and more, we're dealing with people who need some supports that obviously police can't provide," said Williams.

When asked whether this would result in officers taking more people to hospital, Williams said he couldn't speculate. 

"That could happen. But I have to be cautious, because every situation is different," he said. 

"If officers have any doubt about somebody's welfare when they're dealing with them, then we expect them to get medical assistance. But every person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it doesn't mean they automatically need medical assistance. It's a judgment call. We always err on the side of caution."

The London Police Association letter ends by saying its suggestions are not legal advice. 

"You are not bound through duty or otherwise to follow these notes."

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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