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RCMP cleared after dropped 911 call results in Cowichan man’s death

Incident occurred in December 2022
The IIO B.C. reports officers were not at fault after a truncated 911 call resulted in a Cowichan man’s death in December 2022. (File Photo)

Police have been absolved of any wrong doing related to the death of a Cowichan man in December 2022.

The investigation related to a man who called 911 while in medical distress on Dec. 3, then died after incomplete information was given to police about the call.

“Because there was a connection between the death and police actions, the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) was notified and commenced an investigation,” said the decision published on April 13 by Ronald J. MacDonald, the chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.

The inquiry revealed the man had first texted his upstairs neighbour just before 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 asking them to call an ambulance because he couldn’t breathe. The neighbour was sleeping at the time and didn’t receive the text until the following morning.

Roughly 10 minutes after that text, the man, still in distress, called 911 himself.

“When a call-taker came on the line, [the man] was able, with difficulty, to communicate to her that he was suffering from breathing difficulties,” said the report.

The call-taker said they would connect the man with another person but the call was dropped. The report couldn’t identify whose end the call ended from.

MacDonald’s investigation revealed that the matter was passed on to police after two minutes of “a canned message advising, ‘we continue to experience heavy call volume’…” but “the vital information that the caller was having trouble breathing was not passed on and police received the file as a simple ‘dropped 911 call’ with ‘no voice contact’.”

Police were dispatched at 12:03 a.m. on Dec. 4.

“They were told only that the file concerned an abandoned 911 call,” said the report.

When North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP officers knocked on the caller’s door at 12:17 a.m. the lights were out and nobody responded to their repeated knocking and ringing of the door bell.

At 12:24 a.m. police were advised the man’s cell phone ‘pinged’ a few kilometres away. The man was not at that location nor did he answer his phone.

The search was discontinued at 1:03 a.m., one hour and 25 minutes after the 911 call.

Around 7 a.m., the neighbour saw the text message and went to the man’s suite, where she found him dead.

Paramedics determined he had been dead “for a significant time”.

The BC Coroner’s Service classified the death as “natural”.

MacDonald concluded the RCMP were not at fault nor was their response negligent.

“The attending officers carried out their duties reasonably and properly. The officers were at the downstream end of an information chain that was defective.”

MacDonald said the only additional step they could have taken was to force entry into the home but with the information they had, they instead tried to determine the specific location of the phone call, which led them away from the home.

“The evidence as a whole strongly suggests [the man] died within a short time of his truncated 911 call, so it is unlikely that failure by police to locate him and render assistance upon their arrival at his address would have changed the unfortunate outcome in this case.”

Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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