Victim's family felt Vancouver police lied about his death, officer tells inquiry
- Victim's family felt Vancouver police lied about his death, officer tells inquiry
12 minutes ago
By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - The family of an aboriginal man who froze to death in an alley certainly believed they were given incorrect information about how he died, says an internal investigations officer who reviewed Frank Paul's death.
Insp. Robert Rothwell testified at a public inquiry Thursday that the police department called a band council member in the community of Elsipogtog, N.B., where Paul grew up.
Rothwell agreed that police told Brian Soloman that Paul had frozen to death.
What they didn't tell him is that Paul had been in police custody just before that.
Paul, a 48-year-old Mi'kmaq and chronic alcoholic, was found dead of hypothermia in an alley behind a Vancouver detox centre on Dec. 6, 1998, a few hours after a police officer dumped the homeless man there.
Last November, Paul's cousin, Peggy Clement, told the inquiry into his death that the family was told he died in a hit-and run-accident and was found in a ditch a month later.
She said the family then learned Paul was refused admission to the drunk tank.
The inquiry has heard that the sergeant on duty on the night of Dec. 5, 1998 believed Paul wasn't drunk, even though he couldn't stand up and had to be dragged in and out of the facility.
Rothwell, whose review eventually led to a dismissal of a complaint to the police complaints commission, said it wasn't easy to determine who was told what.
"Things were just not as straightforward as they might have been," he told the inquiry, adding it was difficult to find Paul's next of kin because the community, formerly called Big Cove, is in a remote location.
Rothwell said some members of Paul's family believed the RCMP had relayed certain information but it could have been someone in the band office or even the Vancouver police department.
He said police spoke with the band council member with the understanding that there would be further conversations between the coroner or police about what circumstances led to Paul's death.
But he said the investigation was difficult because of faded memories and the unwillingness of the band council and some of Paul's family members to co-operate.
Under questioning by inquiry lawyer Geoffrey Cowper, Rothwell said he gleaned information about those considered unco-operative from a May 2002 report by another officer.
Rothwell also said he wasn't able to conclude if an RCMP member spoke to Paul's family and that, in any case, records of such communication have been destroyed.
However, the Vancouver police department also doesn't have any documents about its communication with Paul's family, the inquiry heard.
"My concern is, why wouldn't you keep a record of what was told to them?" Cowper asked.
"I would expect they would remember who it was that told them that information," Rothwell said.
He said he met Paul in the late 1980s as a patrol officer and that he remembered him as a large, healthy man who was easy to talk to - especially with the promise of a banana yogurt and coffee.
"I did have some warmth for Frank Paul," Rothwell said, adding that when he last saw the man in 1998, Paul wasn't moving around as well.
The inquiry has heard that an autopsy revealed Paul had suffered a brain injury quite a while before he died.
Const. Cheryl Leggett was tasked with determining if police misinformed Paul's family about what happened to him.
She told the inquiry she didn't contact Paul's sister in Maine to ask her about what she'd been told by the RCMP about how Paul had died, even though Leggett admitted she had the phone number.
Lawyer Steven Kelliher, who represents Paul's family, told Leggett she failed to follow up on a strong lead.
"ls it fair to say, then, that you did nothing to answer the question that you were tasked with?" Kelliher asked.
"Absolutely nothing," Leggett replied about her investigation between May 14 and June 11, 2002.
Cameron Ward, a lawyer for the United Native Nations Society, asked her why it took police one month and five days to inform Paul's family about his sudden death when the department's own policy states next of kin must be notified in a timely way - within a day or so - of a person's sudden death.
"I don't have an explanation for that," Leggett said.
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