The police watchdog has cleared Surrey RCMP of any wrongdoing after a woman appears to have died of a fentanyl overdose while in custody earlier this year.
The report, issued Aug. 17 by the Independent Investigations Office, found officers didn’t use force on the woman, and that evidence collected “does not provide grounds to consider any charges.”
The IIO also found there was no causal connection between the woman’s death, and any action or inaction on the part of police.
On May 5, 2018, the woman, who has not been named, was arrested on three outstanding arrest warrants.
The next day, she received a bail hearing and was remanded into custody. Earlier that day, a nurse gave her 500mg of Advil to help with “pain to a finger.”
On May 7, she was found not breathing in her cell.
A weak pulse was detected when a guard checked on her at 9:39 a.m. and she didn’t rouse, according to IIO’s report.
Earlier that morning, a guard reported she was “alert” and “moving within her cell,” until she lay down and appeared to go to sleep at 8:41 a.m.
A guard also said she appeared to be sleeping, and breathing at a subsequent check at 9:23 a.m.
At 9:39 a.m., when she was found laying face down, jail staff tried to help her by administering oxygen, CPR and injecting her with more than one round of naloxone.
Her lips were blue at that time, the report notes.
She was taken to hospital, and was pronounced dead on May 12, 2018.
Video footage suggested the woman had something in her hand, believed to be a “white paper wrap” that was later determined to contain “traces of white powder,” IIO’s report noted.
The contents were tested and found to be fentanyl.
IIO was not able to determine how she got the drugs but noted it it would appear “she hid them somewhere on her person when she was placed in cells.”
“She was facing away from the camera and it is not possible to see what she did with the paper,” noted the report. “It is assumed she ingested drugs, given the presence of amphetamine and fentanyl in her system after she was taken to hospital.”
The report notes a strip search may have found the drugs, but states that the law allows for searches when police have reasonable grounds to believe the person is hiding weapons or evidence related to their offence.
In this case, “there were no grounds for a strip search,” the IIO found.
To make its recommendation, IIO reviewed CCTV footage from RCMP detachment cells, took statements from officers involved as well as jail guards and emergency responders, and conducted drug tests. IIO also looked at the medical evidence and examined the scene.
A civilian witness told IIO that the woman’s chart showed she’d used heroin and alcohol the day prior, and that she was a daily drinker.