The Independent Investigations Office has cleared Port Alberni RCMP of any involvement in the June 2016 death of an 18-year-old Port Alberni woman who had spent time in the Port Alberni detachment’s jail cells the day before and morning of her death.
Jocelyn Nynah Marsha George, 18, the mother of two toddlers, died of heart failure in hospital at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital the night of June 24, 2016, following incarceration in Port Alberni.
George had been picked up on June 23 at 7 a.m. for being intoxicated in a public place, then released at 4:23 p.m. At 6 p.m. the same day, the police received a call from a relative of George’s who said she “was shaking and had blue lips, as if she were cold,” according to the IIO report. The relative attributed part of George’s behaviour, which included hallucinating, to drug use, although George wouldn’t say what she had ingested. After the police arrived, one of two officers called paramedics to assess George before they brought her back to the detachment’s jail cells.
Following a wellness check, paramedics released her into police custody after determining she had no obvious trauma or distress, good blood pressure and a strong pulse. She was brought to cells shortly before shift change at 7 p.m. At that point, one of the officers that had picked George up the second time told the incoming watch commander, only identified in the IIO report as “Officer 1”, that George had not eaten for two days and they should “…push food and fluid.”
The second officer who was with George when she was brought back to cells also passed on a request—this time to a different officer—that George be given food and water outside the normal mealtimes due to her extended period in custody.
The watch commander did not make a personal check on George when he came on shift, only conferring with the jail guards, the IIO noted. As acting watch commander, the officer was required by RCMP policy to “personally check on each person in custody at the beginning and end of his shift.” Intoxicated prisoners are to be “awake or awakened” at least once every four hours, which is the watch commander’s responsibility.
The IIO noted that George was seen on closed circuit video monitors moving around her cell frequently, except for a four-hour sleep between 3:29 a.m. and 7:25 a.m., when the officer who had brought her in the night before came back on shift and checked on her. It was following this visit that paramedics were called to the detachment to check on George, who was then taken to West Coast General Hospital for further checks. Although she was conscious and breathing, she had “little or no blood pressure” and was airlifted to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, where her health further deteriorated despite medical intervention and she died at 7:20 p.m.
Cause of death, according to the IIO report, was drug-induced myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, due to the toxic effects of methamphetamine and cocaine. “(George’s) minimal food and water intake was specifically ruled out as a contributing factor in the death,” the report noted.
Although the officer in charge failed to check in personally on George, nor follow a suggestion that she be fed more frequently, the IIO director noted “there is no evidence to suggest that inaction on his part caused or otherwise contributed to (George’s) medical condition and death.”
The IIO is a civilian-led organization tasked with investigating police-related incidents involving death or serious harm.