Family looks for answers in police custody death – Star Phoenix
Brandon Daniels was overdosing on Tylenol when Saskatoon police arrested him for public drunkenness on a summer night in 2010. Twelve hours after his arrest, the 19-year-old was found dead in his cell. Family and friends now want to know why Daniels, a young man with no criminal record and a history of mental illness, died in police custody.
“They did nothing, leaving him there for 12 hours,” Daniels’ mother, Sherry Bird, told reporters outside Court of Queen’s Bench, where a coroner’s inquest into her son’s death began Monday. Family members packed the courthouse wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Daniels’ face on the front, and the words “Justice 4 Brandon” on the back. As they watched the police surveillance video of the final hours of the 19-year-old’s life – including his trip from a patrol car to the police booking counter – they wept openly in the courtroom.
“To physically actually see him in there, it was devastating,” Bird said. Police responded to a call on July 3, 2010 about an intoxicated male in front of the Galaxy Theatre in downtown Saskatoon, the inquest heard. The caller said the man, believed to be Daniels, appeared severely intoxicated.
He was seated on a bench outside the theatre, with vomit on the ground beneath him. Video from inside the Saskatoon Police Service detention centre showed Daniels semi-conscious and unable to walk. He had to be brought to the holding area in a wheelchair.
Sgt. Randy Huisman – the major crimes investigator in charge of the case, and the main witness at the inquest on Monday – said the night Daniels was arrested was a particular busy one in the police detention unit. There were 36 arrested in total, 13 of them for intoxication.
While the security guard on duty checked on Daniels frequently, the police officer responsible for the unit only checked six times, the inquest heard. Officers discovered Daniels was dead when his cellmate, Leslie Ball, told them something was wrong. “I told them, ‘I think this guy is dead,’ ” Ball told Huisman in a recorded interview shortly after Daniels’ body was discovered.
Ball is now deceased himself. Huisman told the inquest Daniels died from an overdose of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. He said doctors told him an overdose of the drug is treatable with a stomach pump if caught early.
A toxicology report showed no alcohol in Daniels’ system, and no drugs besides the Tylenol and his prescribed medication. Police at the detention centre kept, but did not catalogue, the 11 Tylenol pills they found in Daniels’ coat pocket as he was booked into detention. Family members say Daniels, of the Mistawasis First Nation, had come to Saskatoon to go shopping and got separated from his family.
Seven hours after he was arrested, they called in a missing persons report. Bird said her son suffered from mental health issues, but was not known to abuse alcohol or drugs. She said her son was taking prescribed medication for a suspected mental illness, and she believes he took a large amount of Tylenol in an effort to calm himself down.
The inquest is not designed to assign blame, but may result in recommendations for ways to improve safety at the detention centre. As part of a pilot project in the years since Daniels’ death, police have employed paramedics to work 12-hour shifts in the detention cells. Bird said she would like to see more done to treat people with mental illness who end up in police custody.
“Our goal is to try and get it out there that we need change. We do need things to change for other people. We can’t for our son,” Bird said.
The inquest is expected to last until Friday.
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