Review training, equipment for high-risk vehicle stops among recommendations in Austin Eaglechief inquest

The inquest into Austin Eaglechief's death has ended in Saskatoon.

Objective of jury recommendations is to suggest ways of preventing similar events in the future

Austin Eaglechief died after a high-speed chase with Saskatoon police on June 19, 2017. (Facebook)

The inquest into Austin Eaglechief's death has come to an end with the jury making four recommendations to the Saskatoon Police Service.

Eaglechief, 22, died in 2017 during a high speed police chase in Saskatoon.

The inquest ran from Aug. 19-22 and the jury heard testimonies from various experts and witnesses.

According to Saskatchewan Coroners Services, the jury's recommendations include:

  • Review/implement policies and training for high risk vehicle stops, especially regarding large vehicles.
  • Provide members with access to adequate equipment and vehicles for high risk vehicle stops dealing with larger vehicular threats to peace (i.e., larger police vehicles, push bars, advanced stop sticks, remote disabling or other new available technology.)
  • Consider having a TAC vehicle/heavy duty vehicle available and/or on standby driven by specially trained officers to block or disable vehicular threats.
  • Expand aerial surveillance so that it is available to mitigate risk to public and officer safety to 24 hour service.

The inquest

The inquest heard that a truck was reported stolen on June 19, 2017. Police tried to stop it using a tire deflation device, but the truck fled. 

The truck was spotted again sixteen hours later, at around 8:50 p.m., and a police plane tracked it to a cul-de-sac called Clearwater Place.

Eaglechief and his passenger, Matthew Gamble, briefly got out of the truck before getting back in and speeding off. At that point, police cruisers were told not to pursue it.

The truck ended up ramming a police vehicle while it accelerated out of the cul-de-sac. The officer inside the damaged cruiser was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Another police officer then fired two shots at the fleeing truck.

Detective Sgt. Kory Ochitwa, the Saskatoon major crimes detective who oversaw the police force's internal probe into Eaglechief's death, was the inquest's first witness.

Ochitwa said before Eaglechief died he was observed on Circle Drive driving faster than 160 km/h and crashed into another truck being driven by a civilian.

He said officers found Eaglechief "crumpled" behind the steering wheel of the "significantly damaged truck" and tried CPR, but medics soon pronounced him dead.

Pathologist Shaun Ladham testified that Eaglechief died from multiple fractures to his skull. He described the injuries as lethal and non-survivable.

Ochitwa said no criminal charges were warranted for any of the several officers involved in the incident.

Police questioned for high-risk takedown

Michael Seed, the lawyer for Eaglechief's family, was skeptical about the Saskatoon Police Service's high-risk takedown policy.

Cst. Jason Garland, one of the officers involved in the pursuit said there was little discussion about how to execute the high-risk takedown when the decision was made.

But in the end, officers did not get the chance to follow through because the truck took off before they got into position.

Sgt. Aaron Moser, meanwhile, said Saskatoon police need better equipment for pursuits of big trucks, like the one Eaglechief was driving.

Significant levels of crystal meth in his system

On the last day of the inquest, jurors heard that the 22-year-old died with crystal meth, cannabis and alcohol in his system.

Toxicologist Kimberly Young was the second to last of 14 witnesses to speak at the inquest.

Young said the levels of crystal meth found in Eaglechief's blood could have triggered anxiety, confusion, paranoia and aggression.

The objective of the recommendations is not to find fault, but rather to suggest ways of preventing similar events in the future.

With files from Guy Quenneville, Dan Zakreski, Morgan Modjeski