Coroner's inquest into death of man in RCMP cell hears sister's testimony on day one
RCMP officers and sister of Adla Pudlat testify on first day of inquest
The coroner's inquest into the death of Adla Pudlat, who died while in RCMP custody more than three years ago, is underway in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.
According to testimony heard Monday from the medical examiner, the RCMP, and independent investigators from Ottawa police services, Pudlat died by suicide while in RCMP cells in Cape Dorset.
Nunavut law requires an inquest in cases where someone dies in police custody. The inquest is looking into the circumstances around his death and how similar deaths can be prevented in the future.
Six jurors are listening to testimony this week in Cape Dorset. It will be up to them to confirm how he died and provide recommendations to the RCMP and government on how policies can be improved.
Coroner's counsel Sheldon Toner, who is leading the inquest, said the facts in this particular case are pretty much agreed on by everyone involved.
Pudlat, 29, was employed on a sewage truck. He was recently back together with his partner and his family, and RCMP officers spoke about him being well-liked around town.
On May 19, 2016, he went to his sister's home to pick up his son, who she'd been babysitting.
His sister, Shekulia Pudlat, testified he was drunk and talking about killing his step-father and himself. Pudlat bit Shekulia on the neck, causing an injury that needed to be treated at the health centre.
This was the first time she said she could remember him being violent with her. Concerned for the three kids in the house, she called the police from a neighbour's house.
Const. James Dibert, who responded to the dispatch call, said he was informed that Adla had been talking about suicide, but didn't see any signs of mental distress when he arrived.
Dibert didn't tell the other officer, Jeff Shanks, about the possible mental distress, because he said it is reported often and often nothing comes of it.
Both officers said Pudlat was calm and drunk when they found him. They let him finish smoking his cigarette and brought him back to RCMP cells without any problems.
Cameras in RCMP cells
From Shekulia's testimony, the jury learned Pudlat spoke occasionally to his mother about suicidal thoughts, but had never sought professional help.
When Pudlat was a teen, his father died by suicide. Shekulia described the family as having suffered "a lot" of suicides.
But Pudlat only spoke about suicide when he was drunk, Shekulia said.
When the police returned to check on Shekulia, she said she told them to watch him, but both officers testified they didn't remember discussing that with her.
She did not want to press charges against her brother, but the officers decided he would stay in cells overnight while intoxicated to avoid further incident, and be released in the morning.
Dibert was called back to the RCMP detachment by the cell guard on duty around 1 a.m. Cell guards, who are civilians, are not permitted to enter the cells except in emergency situations.
When Dibert and Shanks opened the cell door, one officer checked and Pudlat, who they could see half of through the window in the door, had no pulse. According to testimony, stiffness had already set into Pudlat's body.
"Where were the cameras? What happened?" Shekulia wailed as she testified. Her crying reverberated off the walls of the youth centre, where the first day of the inquest was held.
She says for her, this inquest will answer these questions.
There are cameras in Cape Dorset's holding cells now. The jury heard they were installed in the spring of 2017.
Pudlat died seven months after Nunavut declared a suicide emergency across the territory, prompted by recommendations by a 2015 coroner's inquest into the number of suicides in Nunavut at the time.
The jurors will have to decide if they feel that, in addition to cameras, there are other changes that could make suicides in RCMP cells less likely.
The inquest is scheduled to run through Thursday. On Tuesday, it will move to the community hall.
Where to get help:
If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
First Nations and Inuit Watch helpline at 1-855-242-3310.
In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre
Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Program
Northern Region 1-800-464-8106