Category Archives: Indigenous Victims

Inquest Set for In-Custody Death of Ina Matawapit of North Caribou Lake First Nation after Lengthy Delay

After five years, a date has finally been set for the inquest into the death in police custody of 37-year-old Ina Matawapit, at the Weagamow Lake Nursing Station in North Caribou Lake First Nation, in northern Ontario. Matawapit died on June 7, 2012 after a transfer from a police vehicle while in custody. Matawapit’s case was one of several that have been egregiously delayed due to widespread problems with Indigenous representation on jury rolls. This ongoing, entrenched problem has characterized criminal justice systems and inquests in the Canadian state context. At least 20 cases in Ontario have been delayed by province’s jury roll problems.

The inquest into Matawapit’s death is mandatory under the Coroners Act because she was in custody at the time. The inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding her death by hearing from about 10 witnesses over the scheduled six days of proceedings. Dr. Michael Wilson will be presiding coroner during the inquest which is scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM on February 12, 2018 at the Days Inn in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

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Additional Charges Against Winnipeg Killer Cop Justin Holz for Killing Cody Severight

Killer Winnipeg cop Justin Holz is facing three additional charges of dangerous driving causing death, dangerous driving, and driving with a blood-alcohol level over .08 per cent causing death for the hit and run killing of 23-year-old Cody Severight, an Indigenous man from the Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 280 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. Holz was initially charged with impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident. The new charges were announced on November 28, 2017. Holz is on administrative leave with pay.

Holz (34) had been drinking after his shift before getting in his vehicle and striking Severight while the young man crossed Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 8 PM on October 10, 2017. The killer cop then left the scene of the killing.

The Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which examines cases of police harm to civilians in Manitoba has continued its investigation since the killing. At the time of the initial charges results of a breathalyzer test had not been returned. Two other police officers who had been assigned to investigate the hit and run have also been placed on paid administrative leave and could face charges for their actions. The maximum sentence for a conviction for dangerous driving causing death is presently 14 years, but legislation proposed earlier this year would increase that to life.

Cody Severight’s grandmother, Gloria Lebold, said that she is glad that the killer cop is facing more charges. In her words: “I’m glad he’s got all of these charges. I’m glad he’s going to have to deal with them” (quoted in CBC News 2017). And this is indeed a rare event. Probably one that would not have occurred had Holz been on duty at the time since cops who kill while o duty are almost never charged, even under obviously dubious circumstances like this. Continued Lebold: “I think he should go to jail. He did a terrible thing. He took an innocent life, only 23 years old. We loved our little grandson” (quoted in CBC News 2017). The family has called for an apology from the cop who killed their loved one.

Denise Elias, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Winnipeg chapter president, expressed disappointment with officer Holz. In her words: “The first feeling that I had was sadness. It is very disappointing, very hurtful”,  adding her disappointment was greater considering Holz was someone who has sworn “to uphold the law, to abide by the law” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Killer cop Justin Holz had his first court appearance scheduled for Wednesday, November 22, but a representative from his lawyer’s firm appeared on his behalf. Holz is currently out on bail.

Severight had just moved to a new apartment and was planning on going back to school when Holz cut his dreams short. Said Gloria Lebold: “We loved our Cody. This little guy was just starting his life” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “Dangerous Driving Causing Death Charge Added for Winnipeg Police Officer in Fatal Hit and Run.” CBC News. November 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/justin-holz-more-charges-1.4423544

 


No Explanation Why Charges Against OPP Constable Mark McKillop Dropped in Killing of Debra Chrisjohn of Oneida Nation

No explanation has been given for why charges of criminal negligence causing death have been dropped against Constable Mark McKillop of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in the death of Debra Chrisjohn (39) of Oneida Nation of the Thames.

In a public statement Chrisjohn’s family said this about the dropping of charges: “The decision by the Crown… is hard for the family to understand. We hope that everyone who played a role will be held accountable.”

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province,  had charged two police officers with the death of Chrisjohn—Constable Nicholas Doering of the London Police Service (LPS) and OPP Constable McKillop. McKillop and Doering faced one charge each of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life. Doering will still face those charges.

London Police Service officers responded to calls made to 911 during the late afternoon of September 7, 2016. Chrisjohn was arrested by LPS and transferred into the custody of Ontario Provincial Police with the Elgin County detachment.  At around 7:52 PM, Emergency Medical Services transported Chrisjohn to St. Thomas Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 8:43 PM.

Caitlyn Kasper, a lawyer at Aboriginal Legal Services and counsel for the family, noted that the family has still not been provided with basic details of the death of their loved one. Kasper explained in the public statement:

“Without knowing the specific details surrounding the death of Debra, it is difficult for the family to assess the decision by the office of the Crown attorney. However, we know that as this active prosecution moves towards preliminary inquiry or trial, more details will emerge. In the meantime, I certainly expect that the Ontario Provincial Police will be thoroughly reviewing the actions of Const. McKillop to determine if there were breaches of the Police Services Act.”


Winnipeg Cops Delay Breathalyzer for Colleague Justin Holz in DUI Hit-and-Run Killing of Cody Severight

Questions are being raised publicly about egregious delay in police officers administering a breathalyzer test to their colleague who was involved in a fatal hit-and-run in Winnipeg. Constable Justin Holz (34) was arrested away from the scene a short tome after striking 23-year-old Indigenous man Cody Severight of Waywayseecappo First Nation on October 10, 2017.

Len Eastoe, a former cop who now runs Traffic Ticket Experts to help people fight fines, cannot understand why it took three to four hours to administer the test to Constable Holz. Said Eastoe: “It is a rather strange period of time” (quoted in CBC 2017). Eastoe notes that there can be a passage of time in administering the breath test, in this case the gap between when the crash happened and when Holz was tested is much too wide. He suggests that the test is usually done within two hours. In his view: “There has to be some sort of a reason for that, and then you’ve really got questions as to whether that test is going to be admissible or not” (quoted in CBC 2017).

Of course, some would offer the rather obvious answer that they are doing what cops routinely do in protecting their colleagues who kill. And in this case, as Eastoe suggests, it could rule the test inadmissible in any court proceedings against the officer, thus shielding him from conviction.

Even more, two police officers who had been assigned to investigate Holz have been placed on paid administrative leave and could face charges, for as yet unspecified activities. Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth has only said that the officers did not administer the breathalyzer test and were not at the scene of the collision.

The Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), Manitoba’s police oversight body, said on Friday, October 20, that it had been notified of “irregular and improper conduct of two officers” and is assessing whether charges should be laid. It ahs been reported that one of the officers in question was at The Pint, the bar at which officer Holz was drinking before getting in his car and killing Cody Severight. Did they watch as their colleague got into his car to drive off after an evening of drinking?

Constable Holz has been charged with impaired driving causing death and fleeing the scene of an accident.

 

Further Reading

CBC. 2017. “Breathalyzer Delay for Officer Charged in Fatal Hit-and-Run Raises Questions, Former Cop Says.” CBC News. October 25. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/breathalyzer-test-length-of-time-justin-holz-1.4370540


Person Killed by Alberta RCMP Identified as 26-Year-Old Cree Man, Cavin Poucette

Family members have identified 26-year-old Cavin Poucette as the person shot and killed by Alberta RCMP on the morning of October 19, 2017, in the town of Gleichen, victim of Thursday morning’s shooting in the town of Gleichen, east of Red Deer. Poucette has been identified by friends as a “proud Cree” originally from Morley on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

The incident that resulted in the killing started when two RCMP officers conducted a traffic stop near the intersection of Haskayne Avenue and Gleichen Street, for reasons not yet disclosed publicly. It ended when an RCMP officer shot Mr. Poucette, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Relatives later recognized Poucette and his vehicle within the crime scene tape and publicly identified him as the victim.

Family members have some serious questions about the killing. Gildas Storm, Poucette’s uncle, said to CTV Calgary: “They should tell us what’s going on. All they say is they don’t know who that is and they don’t know who… That’s my nephew!” (quoted in White 2017).

He continued in frustration: “Cops stopped us here and they said that ASIRT was going to get ahold of us. They’re driving all over the damn reserve trying to find people. We’re right here. If ASIRT wants to find the family, we’re right here” (quoted in White 2017).

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is investigating.

 

Further Reading

White, Ryan. 2017. “Friends and Family Mourn Man Fatally Shot by RCMP in Gleichen.” CTV News. October 21. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/friends-and-family-mourn-man-fatally-shot-by-rcmp-in-gleichen-1.3643126

 


Saskatchewan RCMP Shoot and Kill 22-Year-Old Indigenous Man, Brydon Bryce Whitstone (Oct. 21, 2017)

Saskatchewan RCMP shot and killed 22-year-old Brydon Bryce Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation around 9 PM on the evening of Saturday, October 21, 2017, in North Battleford.

RCMP have reported that they received a call from a man, saying he had been chased and shot at from a vehicle.  Police located the suspected vehicle and gave pursuit until they immobilized the vehicle. During their interaction with the driver shots were fired injuring a man inside the vehicle.  The victim, now identified as Brydon Bryce Whitstone, was pronounced dead at around 9:40 PM, while en route to hospital.

RCMP also report that a woman inside the vehicle suffered minor injuries. She was taken to hospital, but then released into police custody. Neither her condition nor the specific reason she was taken into custody have been reported publicly at this time. Neither has it been reported publicly how many shots were fired by RCMP officers. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.

There is no independent investigative unit In Saskatchewan to examine cases of police harm to civilians in the province. RCMP Chief Superintendent Maureen Levy has reported that the Regina Police Service is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Whitstone by RCMP officers.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice will also appoint what it calls an independent observer to oversee the investigation, but such observers are almost always former police officers, so in no way independent. Justice Ministry spokesman Drew Wilby explained at a news conference that in cases were an independent observer is requested, the ministry appoints someone such as a former police officer. Yet, Wilby suggested, incredulously, that, “This individual will not be connected to the RCMP.” But it could well be a fellow officer so no claims of independence have any credibility.

Saskatchewan RCMP are a directly colonial military force. It remains a force of settler colonial military occupation of Indigenous lands and has an ongoing history of violence against Indigenous people and communities.


Killer Winnipeg Cop Justin Holz Could Face Additional Charges in Cody Severight Killing

On Friday, October 13, 2017, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told the city’s civilian police board that additional charges could be coming against Constable Justin Holz  for allegedly driving while impaired and fleeing the scene after hitting and killing pedestrian Cody Severight on October 10, 2017.  Smyth told the board that the results of a breathalyzer have not yet been analyzed and could bring about the further criminal charge of driving with a blood alcohol concentration over .08, which is 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood. Constable Holz has been charged with impaired driving causing death and failure to remain at the scene.

Smyth also told the police board that further disciplinary action could be taken against Constable Holz once the investigation is complete. This could come even before the case goes to court. Holz is presently on administrative leave with pay but Smyth acknowledged that future disciplinary action could include dismissal of the officer.

This is not the first time a Winnipeg police officer has hit and killed someone while driving after an evening of drinking. In 2005 officer Derek Harvey-Zenk killed Crystal Taman after driving home from an all night drinking party with other officers. Several charges were initially brought against Harvey-Zenk, including impaired driving causing death, but all except dangerous driving causing death were stayed in a highly controversial plea bargain. Harvey-Zenk was eventually sentenced to two years less a day to be served at home.

Upon hearing about Constable Holz killing Cody Severight while driving after drinking, Robert Taman, Crystal Taman’s husband, expressed sadness and dismay. Taman, who became an advocate for police reform after the killing of his wife, offered a stark assessment of prospects for change among police:

 

“But it never changes. So if it doesn’t change [that means] they don’t find it important enough to change, so it’s going to continue until the organization, the association, somebody steps up and says, ‘That’s enough.’” (quoted in CBC News 2017)

 

So no one should hold their breath awaiting additional charges or further disciplinary actions from police. Despite what the chief says.

The Independent Investigation Unit, which examines all cases of harm to civilians serious incidents involving police officers in Manitoba, is investigating the killing. Holz has been released from custody on a promise to appear in court on November 22, 2017.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “’Nothing Hidden’: Truth Must be Revealed in Cody Severight Hit-and-Run Death, Crystal Taman’s Husban Says.” October 12. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/robert-taman-cody-severight-fatal-crash-1.4351359