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Mother, stepfather get 15 years in prison for death of six-year-old Port Alberni boy

Both Mitchell and Rykel Frank pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2018 incident

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains details of child abuse that may be upsetting to some readers.

A Port Alberni mother and stepfather have been sentenced to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter of their six-year-old child.

Rykel Frank (née Charleson) and Mitchell Frank were in the Port Alberni courthouse on Thursday, May 16, where they were sentenced to 15 years in prison (minus the three years they have already served) for the 2018 death of Dontay-Patrick Lucas. Dontay was just six years old in 2018 when he was found in medical distress at the home of his mother and stepfather. He was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.

It wasn’t until May of 2022 that Mitchell and Rykel Frank were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. In November of 2023, they both pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

READ MORE: Mother, stepfather charged in death of 6-year-old Port Alberni boy

READ MORE: Mom, stepdad plead guilty in 2018 death of Port Alberni boy

Crown Counsel and defence entered a joint submission for 15 years’ imprisonment, based on a few mitigating factors—the fact that the Franks both pleaded guilty, the fact that they are first-time offenders with no criminal record and the fact that they both come from a “significantly” disadvantaged background.

But there were also a few aggravating factors: the degree of violence used, Dontay’s age, the fact that the Franks waited “hours” to seek medical attention for Dontay before his death and the fact that this was a series of offences committed over time, rather than one isolated incident.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen described how in the months before his death, the Franks abused Dontay by biting him, hitting him, forcing him to “plank,” forcing him to run up and down the stairs and forcing him to hang from his knees at the top of a door until he fell down. Dontay was also deprived of sleep, food and water at times.

In the early hours of March 13, 2018, a blunt force injury to Dontay’s brain caused him to have a seizure. The Franks tried to treat the seizure by putting him in the shower but he was not able to be revived. He was later transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy found bruises “too numerous to list,” said Tammen. The cause of death was blunt force head trauma caused by a combination of injuries.

“Both accused caused Dontay’s death by committing acts of wanton cruelty,” said Tammen. “This was a crime involving prolonged abuse with considerable violence committed against a vulnerable young person, with whom both accused were in a relationship of trust.”

Before the sentencing, Crown Counsel read a series of victim impact statements from members of Dontay’s family and foster parents. Patrick Lucas, Dontay’s father, described in his impact statement the way he fell into a “deep depression” after Dontay’s death, which led to him losing his job, his vehicle and his home. He isolated himself from his friends and family and ended up turning to alcohol.

“It was really my worst nightmare to lose a child,” Patrick said in his statement. “I have really bad days and hard days in March every year.”

Gladue reports on Rykel and Mitchell, who are both Indigenous, describe how they are both descendants of the residential school system and they both experienced significant abuse in their childhoods. They both developed alcohol problems in their teen years. Their poor parental models and alcohol dependency meant they were not “emotionally or mentally equipped” to properly take care of Dontay, said Tammen.

Mitchell stood up and addressed the courtroom on Thursday, apologizing for his actions. Rykel, meanwhile, provided a written statement where she also apologized to Dontay’s family and the community that has been impacted by his death.

“I was afraid to ask for help because I was hurting,” she said. “Not asking for help was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.”

After sentencing, several members of Dontay’s family stood up to address the Franks and offer their forgiveness.

“In order to let our little man rest, we need to forgive you,” said one member of the family.

Dontay’s family gathered outside of the courthouse early on Thursday morning with friends, community members and other supporters. Haahuupayak Elementary School, where Dontay was a student, closed for the rest of the week to allow staff to support the family if they chose, spokesperson Martin Watts said.

Supporters carried photos of Dontay and performed a few songs in front of the courthouse before filing into the courtroom to hear the sentencing.

“It’s with a real heavy heart that we’re here today gathered,” said Mariah Charleson, the elected Chief Councillor of Hesquiaht First Nation, of which Dontay was a member. “We need to understand that it’s been over six years that Patrick, his grandfather, siblings and family are awaiting justice. We should have people crying from the streets. This is absolutely horrific.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council called Dontay’s death “a tragedy and a great loss for the entire Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.” In a statement released following the sentencing, NTC president Cloy-e-iis, Judith Sayers, said the Nation is “heartbroken at the loss of this young soul,” and said Dontay’s death has had a profund impact on Nuu-chah-nulth communities.

Les Doiron, NTC vice-president, said he hopes the sentencing provides comfort to those who have been impacted, and said the NTC “deeply respects the strength of the Lucas family in expressing forgiveness” to the accused in the courtroom.

Graham Hughes, a spokesperson for the Lucas family, said the brief gathering was all about supporting the family through their grief.

“There’s a community that does miss and grieve Dontay still,” said Hughes. “His death impacted everyone, from his school and his peers, to the people who worked with him, to his foster family. But most importantly, his biological family, who is still fighting for justice for their child.”

Despite the sentencing, Hughes said there are still “a lot” of unanswered questions when it comes to Dontay’s case. Some of the biggest questions, he said, are for Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family & Child Services, which oversees Indigenous children who are in care. Dontay was in foster care “for most of his life.”

But Hughes said the family also wants to know why it has taken so long for them to get justice. He drew a comparison to the Berry sisters in Oak Bay, who were killed on Christmas Day in 2017. Although the tragedy happened only a few months before Dontay’s death, their father was charged and convicted with their murders within two years. In contrast, it took four years for the Franks to be arrested.

“There’s a lot of injustices that have happened along the way to Dontay, in his life and in his death, where we are wondering how it could have happened, how many times he could be saved,” said Hughes. “What are the things that can be changed so that this doesn’t continue? Ultimately, justice for Dontay becomes justice for all children.”

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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