Romeo Wesley, a 34-year-old Indigenous man of Cat Lake First Nation was killed by police on September 9, 2010, while in police custody at the Cat Lake nursing station. Two Nishnawbe-Aski police officers, Constable Troy Sousa and Constable Chris Carson, pepper sprayed Wesley, beat him with a baton, handcuffed him, and then stepped on his neck and back with their boots after he was face down on the ground and under their control.
This stunning violence is captured in 45 minutes of security video footage from the Health Canada nursing station where Wesley was killed and was shown during the inquest into Wesley’s killing which has finally gotten under way in July 2017. The video shows that several minutes passed from the time that Wesley stopped moving before anyone checked his vital signs. Instead, police took photos of the subdued man and a nurse mopped the floor around him. Dr. Harriet Lennox, the doctor on duty that night, testified that the pepper spray used by police in the confined space made it difficult for the nurses to breathe.
Wesley had gone to the nursing station, the community’s only health facility, three times over the course of two days, trying to get help for a variety of problems including vision troubles and problems breathing. Instead of help he was killed.
Constable Chris Carson showed up at the scene wearing a t-shirt with a rifle on it. He later took off the shirt and was bare chested when he stood on Romeo Wesley’s neck. Dr. Lennox testified that she wondered when police would consider Wesley to be subdued enough that she could provide medical care, but assumed that they would have proper protocols in place.
The autopsy report of the killing blurred lines on the police violence inflicted on the man and his recurring health problems. It concluded that Wesley died from a combination of “chest compression with prone positional restraint” (police standing on his neck and back) and “severe alcohol withdrawal” which certainly did not naturally lead to being stomped by police boots.
Officers with the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service receive the same training as other police officers in Ontario but they are not subject to Ontario’s Police Service Act and are not subject to the same oversight when people are harmed in their custody.
Cat Lake First Nation is about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Approximately 500 people live there.