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Four of nine cases OIPRD recommends be reopened involve Indigenous youth

The four youth were part of the Seven Youth Inquest conducted in 2016 and three of the deaths were labeled as undetermined

THUNDER BAY - Four of the nine cases the Office of the Independent Police Review Director says should be reinvestigated because of inadequacies on the part of the Thunder Bay Police Service were part of the Seven Youth Inquest held in 2016.

The OIPRD released the findings of its report that found systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service at an institutional level on Wednesday.

One of the key recommendations of the report included nine investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people be reopened due to a lack of quality of the initial investigations.

The report examined 37 investigations conducted by the Thunder Bay Police involving the deaths of Indigenous people since 2009.

A number of TBPS investigators involved in these investigations “lacked the expertise and experience to conduct sudden death or homicide investigations,”Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, wrote in his report.

The individuals in the cases suggested to be reopened are not explicitly named in the OIPRD report, but given the ages, dates, and circumstances of the deaths, Tbnewswatch was able to determine the identities of several individual cases.

Included in the nine investigations are Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Kyle Morriseau, and Jordan Wabasse, who were all part of an inquest examining the circumstances of the deaths of seven Indigenous youth who died in Thunder Bay between the years 2000 and 2011.

Other Indigenous people included in the investigations recommended to be reopened include Christina Gliddy, a 28-year-old Indigenous woman whose unconscious body was found near the McIntyre River in 2016, Marie Spence, whose body was found in April 2016 against a fence along the Trans Canada Highway, and Stacy DeBungee, a 41-year-old man from Rainy River First Nation whose body was found in the McIntyre River in 2015 and TBPS service quickly ruled the death non-suspicious.

Stacy DeBungee case

An OIPRD report substantiated allegations of misconduct on the part of investigating officers with the TBPS in the investigation of DeBungee’s death.

McNeilly’s report details how after only 25 hours after DeBungee’s body was discovered TBPS deemed the death non-criminal in a media release.

However, family members, including DeBungee’s brother, Brad DeBungee, did not accept that Stacy was “passed out and unconscious” and “simply rolled nine to 10 feet down the riverbank into the river and drowned.”

The complainants believed that the investigating of officers concluded that Mr. DeBungee’s death was “an accident prior to taking any meaningful investigative steps to determine the cause of death and how he ended up in the river,” the report reads.

Family members hired a private investigator that found “a concern that TBPS made the determination of ‘no foul play’ and the death being ‘non-criminal,’ prior to the autopsy being conducted and in the absence of information from any potential witnesses.”

McNeilly writes that the sudden death of DeBungee should have been treated as a potential homicide and investigated as such.

Questions raised

Christina Gliddy, a 28-year-old Indigenous woman, was found unconscious on an embankment on the McIntyre River in March 2016. She was transported to hospital but died shortly after.

Responding officers stated there were no visible signs of trauma when they arrived on the scene, though emergency staff indicated Gliddy had bruises and scrapes on her shins and knees.

The coroner determined the cause of death was hypothermia and the TBPS case file lists the death as accidental.

“There is little or no doubt that Ms. A.B. [abbreviation used in report] died of hypothermia,” McNeilly writes. “However, investigators should have focused on how she came to be unconscious, whether anyone else’s actions contributed to her death – and more specifically, whether she was sexually assaulted.”

In the case of Marie Spence, McNeilly writes that the coroner directed the body be removed from the scene before investigators attended the scene.

“The Regional Supervising Coroner subsequently advised that TBPS police officers need not attend the autopsy, and that photographs could be taken by morgue staff,” McNeilly continued in the report. “According to the police, the Regional Supervising Coroner did not feel that the circumstances of the deceased’s death were suspicious.”

“Ms. E.F.’s [abbreviation used in report] death may or may not have been related to intoxication (blood alcohol level of 244 mg/100 mL) leading to hypothermia. Ms. E.F.’s recent injuries may or may not have been attributable, in whole or in part, to stumbling or crawling. However, the investigation fell significantly short of what was required to enable those conclusions to be drawn.”

Indigenous youth

In the case of Jethro Anderson, a 15-year-old student at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School whose body was found in the Kaministiqua River in November 2000, McNeilly writes that initially foul play was not suspected, however; the investigation was “wholly inadequate.”

“The police received evidence from multiple sources that M.N. [abbreviation used in report] had been assaulted prior to his death,” the report states. “Nonetheless, no sustained or serious criminal investigation followed.”

The body of Curran Strang, an 18-year-old youth who was also attending DFC, was discovered in the McIntyre River near the Intercity area in September 2005.

Strang’s blood alcohol level was found to be 285 mg/mL, but no further investigation was conducted into why or how Strang’s blood alcohol was so high, or the injuries to Strang’s shins.

“There is little attention given to this finding and no further investigation is indicated,” McNeilly writes. “At a systemic level, this investigation again raises concerns about the limited interaction between the forensic identification officer, the criminal investigators, the pathologist and coroner.”

Kyle Morriseau, a 17-year-old youth attending DFC in 2009, was reported missing to Thunder Bay Police in October 2009. On Nov. 10, 2009, his body was discovered in the McIntyre Floodway.

It was determined by the coroner that his body had been in the water for an extended period of time and the riverbank was searched for evidence, though none was found.

“The autopsy report stated that the cause of death was ‘asphyxiation due to drowning associated with alcohol intoxication,’” the report states. “There were abrasions noted on both shins. The photographs of the deceased and the evidence of the forensic identification of the officer who attended the scene both suggest that the face was swollen, but this is not addressed in the autopsy report. Toxicology results reflected a blood alcohol level of 228 mg/100mL.”

The report states further that there were several leads that came out during the missing person report for Morriseau that were not followed up on by police and that many “investigative steps called for in this‘suspicious death’ investigation were not completed as mandated by Adequacy Standards and best practice. As such, TBPS is not in a position to rule out foul play in this death. Therefore, it should be reinvestigated.”

The fourth Indigenous youth, Jordan Wabasse, a 15-year-old attending the Matawa Learning Centre reported missing in February 2011, was discovered in the Kaministiqua River in May and witnesses reported seeing footprints leading out onto the ice.

A witness told police people were chasing Wabasse with intent to beat him and he ran across the river and fell through the ice.

An interview with a witness revealed the gang, The Native Syndicate, had killed Wabaase thinking he was someone else with a similar name.

Another witness stated someone told her Wabasse was thrown from a bridge onto the ice after an altercation.

“The police interviewed multiple individuals in connection with S.T.’s [abbreviation used in report] disappearance and death,” the report states. “However, it is very difficult to understand how the police concluded, even after the autopsy, that ‘in the absence of any other evidence, there is no reason to suspect foul play.’”

“There were several leads to follow-up on and individuals to interview who may have had direct knowledge of this matter,” the report continues. “This was not pursued.”

McNeilly’s full report can be found on the OIPRD website.

(With files from Matt Vis).

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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