New Brunswick

N.B. mom in 'disbelief' when son found alive after RCMP tell her he's dead

Donna Price struggles to explain the range of emotions she's gone through after being told her 29-year-old son was the man found dead in the public washroom outside Moncton city hall Tuesday, only to find out hours later RCMP made a mistake.

Family plans to sue over misidentification of body discovered in public washroom

A portrait of a woman.
Donna Price says she hopes her family's planned lawsuit against the RCMP helps prevents another family from going through the same trauma. (Submitted by Donna Price)

Donna Price struggles to explain the range of emotions she's gone through after being told her 29-year-old son was the man found dead in the public washroom outside Moncton city hall Tuesday, only to find out hours later RCMP made a mistake.

"I don't even know how to describe how I'm feeling," she said. "It's almost like a numb feeling."

When officers first informed her and her son's stepfather David Price, "it was the grieving, it was the emotional trauma, it was sadness."

They faced the impossible task of breaking the devastating news to their son's sister, two stepsisters and elderly grandparents.

Extended family members made travel arrangements as they started to plan a funeral.

It was when Price sent someone to her son's home late Tuesday afternoon to collect paperwork and a few mementos that they discovered the truth.

"To their shock, he was in his bedroom," alive and well," Price said. "They called [to tell me], and I'm sure I asked them 10 times."

Her son, whom she declined to name to protect his privacy, was equally shocked.

'Egregious case of police negligence'

"So there's two different emotions — from a deep grieving to joy but disbelief," said Price in an interview Friday.

"I'm very happy, but I'm also very sad and very disappointed how it transpired … And I feel really sad for the family of the deceased because 13 hours was robbed from them. That was their time."

Earlier in the day, lawyer Brian Murphy announced the Prices intend to "pursue legal remedies such as a lawsuit and the complaints commission process."

"This is an egregious case of police negligence causing mental anguish, but worse a case of indifference to those of a lower economic earnings bracket," Murphy said.

Lawyer Brian Murphy, who is representing the family, described the police work regarding identification of the body as 'sloppy' and 'insensitive.' (Shane Magee/CBC)

Price said her ex-husband and his wife are also part of the lawsuit. The family's main goal, she said, is to raise awareness to ensure "this never happens to another family."

They allege the RCMP did not follow the usual identification protocols because they believed the man who died was homeless or an addict.

Price said she called police after she learned her son was alive, looking for answers about what happened, and the officer she spoke to "wasn't empathetic or sympathetic."

Price asked if police had ID when, a mere hour after the body was discovered, they advised her it was her son. "'Well, we're not sure. Maybe it was stolen, or maybe' — like, it was so vague," she said.

Based on visual identification from photo

A few hours later, when the officer visited her Dieppe home, where family had gathered, he told her there was no ID, according to Price. Police had taken a photo of the victim, which was circulated among members and one or more identified the man as Price's son, who has been homeless in the past and was known to police. 

"And that's how they did it. No fingerprints. No DNA. No nothing," Price said.

"What if that body was found maybe in a different area … or it was very well-dressed — would the same protocols have been taken? I highly doubt it.

You know, homeless people and addicts, they have families. They have a story.- Donna Price, mother

"I said, 'You saw someone that's homeless. You saw someone you thought that was an addict? Done. Let's just take a picture.' And I said, 'Look at the trauma.'"

Price asked the officer and his colleague if they had children.

"I said, 'You put yourself in our shoes — the grief, the devastation.'"

At that point, she said, the officer apologized and acknowledged they had "erred."

"I said, 'Shame on you guys for not treating it like you would any other person.' I said, 'You know, homeless people and addicts, they have families. They have a story.'"

In a statement, her husband said "the total lack of remorse or an apology and the high-handed arrogant assumptions made about [their] son, and the actual deceased person are so offensive."

RCMP 'aware of this matter'

The New Brunswick RCMP "is aware of this matter, and is in communication with family members about this situation related to [its] internal processes," spokesperson Cpl. Hans Ouellette said in an emailed statement.

But he declined further comment.

"This is not a criminal matter, but may soon be part of a legal process," he said. "Any evidence pertinent to this matter could be presented as part of a judicial or internal process."

"The RCMP respects fair and impartial proceedings as part of the legal system. As such, it would be inappropriate to comment on evidence or other aspects that may be part of judicial or internal proceedings."

Earlier this week, RCMP said a man in his late-20s was found deceased in the public washrooms outside Moncton city hall in the early hours of Tuesday. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Price said her family is exhausted from the roller coaster of emotions, trying to "piece everything together," and the dealing with the "aftermath," such as having to cancel their bereavement leave and not being sure what to tell their bosses.

"This is almost like an unbelievable story."

Some of them might need some counselling, she said, but they're strong and they'll get through this.

The name of the man who died has not been made public.

Price offered sympathy to his family and friends and called for more resources for the homeless and addicts.

"Housing is crucial," she said.

Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, previously told CBC News the man who died had overdosed at the charity's overdose prevention site Monday afternoon. Staff managed to revive him, but he was homeless and Warren was unable to find a bed for him that night.

Her staff worried he wouldn't survive the night if he was left outside in the cold, she had said. The man was found dead hours later in the public washroom.

Advocates for the homeless had warned city council that night that lives may be lost this winter without more shelter options.