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B.C. Mountie 'likely crossed criminal negligence threshold' in failed wellness check

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British Columbia's police oversight agency says a Kelowna RCMP officer "quite likely crossed the criminal negligence threshold" when his attempt to conduct a wellness check on a man who was later found dead was thwarted because the officer couldn't find the buzzer number for the man's apartment.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. issued its report into the matter Thursday. While the report strongly condemns the Mountie's actions, it does not refer the case to prosecutors for potential criminal charges because evidence from the coroner indicates the man was "very likely already dead" when the wellness check was conducted.

The police watchdog agency instead referred the case to the RCMP's professional standards branch, saying the unnamed officer's inaction "may well constitute a breach of RCMP policy and practice."

According to the IIO's narrative of the incident, a woman who lives outside the province called the Kelowna RCMP on Jan. 10 because she was worried about her friend's health, telling the police dispatcher her friend was "extremely sick with laboured breathing" when they spoke on the phone the day before.

The officer was dispatched to the man's apartment building at 10:02 a.m. He arrived at 10:40 a.m., spending just two minutes at the building's front door before leaving and telling the woman to find someone else to check on him, according to the report.

The officer's notes from the scene indicate that the tenant names are not listed on the building's intercom directory and "the apartment numbers on the buzzer are coded," the report found.

"A video recording from the building lobby shows [the officer] appearing outside the front door, examining the building directory and then leaving," the IIO report says. "He is there for approximately two minutes."

One hour later, the same officer was again dispatched to the building, this time to assist paramedics with a sudden death. The man had been found dead in his apartment by the building manager that morning.

At that time, the officer "briefed a supervisor on scene, but there is no indication that [he] told the supervisor that he had been at the residence about an hour earlier, or that he had failed on that occasion to conduct a requested wellness check," according to the report.

The coroner determined that the man died from natural causes some time the day or night before.

Officer 'abandoned his investigation'

The police oversight agency says it relied on information from the coroner, as well as surveillance video and records from the RCMP in piecing together its investigation into the failed wellness check.

"[The officer's] failure in this case to properly comply with his sworn duty to protect life was significant and came at least very close to and quite likely crossed the criminal negligence threshold," the IIO's chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald wrote in his findings.

"[The officer] had information that [the man] was seriously ill and was no longer answering his phone," MacDonald said.

"After the RCMP got a call to check on a very sick person, [the officer] almost immediately abandoned his investigation after being stopped by the building's front door. There were other options he could have pursued but he failed to take any, other than to call the complainant back to tell her to get someone else to do the job he had been tasked to do."

The police watchdog agency says the officer should have tried to contact the superintendent or other residents of the building or forcing his way in. "Based on the evidence available to this investigation, [the officer] did very little," the report states.

"However, the objective evidence here indicates that the failure of [the officer] to gain entry and conduct a check on the deceased did not make any difference to the unfortunate outcome," the report concludes. "The evidence would strongly suggest that [the man] was already deceased when [the officer] initially attended."

  

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