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Stonechild Inquiry fallout

Stonechilds sue for $30M
Family blames police in teen's death

Neil Stonechild

Neil Stonechild's family is suing a number of Saskatoon police officers and former officers for $30 million for their roles in the 1990 freezing death of the 17-year-old Saulteaux youth and the police handling of the matter.

"They don't want to admit they were in the wrong," Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, said Monday. "They don't want to seem to make things right," she said.

Bignell blames the police based on the statements of Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, who says he saw Stonechild in the back seat of a police car, handcuffed, with blood on his face and screaming, "They're gonna kill me."

Stonechild's frozen body was found five days later in the north industrial area of Saskatoon.

The claim says that in response to Bignell's inquires, suggestions and pleas about the death of her son, police provided "misinformation, obfuscation, deception and false assurances . . . (which amount to) deceit by and conspiracy of Saskatoon Police Services officers."

The lawsuit was brought by Bignell, her husband, Norman Bignell, and Stonechild's siblings, Marcel, Erica and Jason Stonechild.

"There will never be closure. No amount of money can bring him back. But at least I'll feel something will come out of it. It won't be for nothing," Stella Bignell said.

Her lawyer, Donald Worme, said Bignell has not been anxious to take the matter to court and still hopes a settlement can reached.

"I view litigation as a failure, a failure of reasonableness, and Stella has been nothing if not reasonable," Worme said.

The suit names Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, the constables who were dispatched to a disturbance involving Stonechild the night he was last seen alive; Keith Jarvis, the former sergeant who conducted a brief, inconclusive investigation of the death; then-chief Joe Penkala; then-communications officer Dave Scott; Const. Rene Lagimodiere, the first officer at the scene after the body was found; former Sgt. Michael Petty, the ranking officer at the scene; former Staff Sgt. Theodore Bud Johnson, who was Jarvis's supervisor; deputy chief of police Dan Wiks, who made misleading comments to the press in 2003 about police knowledge of Hartwig and Senger as suspects in Stonechild's death; and other Saskatoon Police Service officers whose identities have yet to be determined.

The claim is asking for out-of-pocket expenses including funeral costs, $10 million each for general, exemplary and punitive damages. As well, it seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, conspiracy, deceit, special damages for loss of income, damages pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Fatal Accidents Act and for breach of fiduciary duty.

The circumstances of Stonechild's death and the subsequent police investigation were examined by a judicial inquiry in 2003 and 2004.

Commissioner Justice David Wright found in his October 2004 report that Hartwig and Senger had Stonechild in their police cruiser the night he was last seen alive, and that when his frozen body was found five days later, on Nov. 29, 1990, his face and wrists bore marks that were probably made by handcuffs.

Neil Stonechild

Wright also found that police conducted an inadequate investigation.

Testimony given at the inquiry cannot be used for the purpose of a civil action or criminal prosecutions.

The lawsuit claims Hartwig and Senger took Stonechild into custody, assaulted him and abandoned him in a field in the northwest industrial area of Saskatoon.

Their actions amount to intentional trespass, assault and battery, which caused or contributed to Stonechild's death, the claim states. It alleges the pair conspired to conceal intentional and malicious actions.

The claim alleges the investigation by Jarvis was negligent or intentionally and maliciously deficient, and amounts to a conspiracy to conceal the circumstances surrounding Stonechild's death.

Likewise, Penkala, Lagimodiere, Petty and Johnson were negligent in their duties or conspired to conceal the circumstances surrounding the death, the claim states.

The claim alleges Scott's telling a newspaper reporter in 1991 that the police had put a tremendous amount of work into the file was fraudulent and deceitful. It alleges Scott conspired with undetermined officers to conceal the circumstances surrounding the death.

Wiks is also accused of deceit and conspiracy to conceal the circumstances.

No charges were ever laid against anyone in connection with the death, but Hartwig and Senger were fired within days of the report's release and deputy police chief Dan Wiks was charged under the Police Act with discreditable conduct.

Hartwig and Senger appealed their dismissals and are now awaiting a decision.

Wiks also appealed. He was cleared in Oct. on the discreditable conduct charges but was found guilty of a minor charge of negligence.

Disciplinary hearing officer Murray Hinds ordered that Wiks receive a one-day suspension, a year on probation with quarterly performance reviews and a reprimand on his personnel file.


Report will get action
mayor: Improvement in race relations, complaints process called for

Mayor Don Atchison says a new report spawned by the Stonechild inquiry and intended to enhance trust and confidence between the community and the police service will be put into action.

"This is not a theoretical document. It's a blueprint for action," Atchison said during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.

"Once we've had additional input from the community, there's a time to act and it's now," he added.

On Wednesday, the Saskatoon board of police commissioners released a report from the committee on strategic renewal.

The report focuses on two main areas: enhancing race relations and improving the police complaints process.

"I think people are starting to see that we really do mean what we're saying. We want to be an inclusive police service," said Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo.

The police commission established the strategic renewal committee after receiving a report in September 2004 from the commission of inquiry into the death of Neil Stonechild.

Stonechild was 17 years old when he disappeared on Nov. 24, 1990. His frozen body was found in a field several days later in Saskatoon's north industrial area. Saskatoon police closed the case after three days of investigation, saying Stonechild froze to death.

Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, claimed he saw Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser the night he disappeared, screaming, "They're gonna kill me."

In September 2003, the Stonechild inquiry began, hearing from dozens of witnesses. Two Saskatoon police constables, Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, were suspended from duty and later fired after the inquiry's commissioner, Justice David Wright, found they had Stonechild in their custody on the night he was last seen alive.

It was the second time Saskatoon police were implicated in such a case.

Saskatoon police constables Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen were fired in 2001 after they were convicted of unlawful confinement for abandoning an intoxicated aboriginal man, Darrell Night, on the outskirts of the city in 2000.

Wright's report made a number of recommendations related to policing. The committee on strategic renewal was established to advance the work that had been done as well as develop additional strategies, according to the police commission.

Atchison, who chairs the commission, said the committee's report is already being put into action. To date, the number of aboriginal liaison officers has grown to two from one, and there's now a full-time member dedicated to aboriginal recruiting, he said.

"We dealt with that right away."

The report also recommends that the justice minister be requested to make changes to the public complaints process. For example, the report recommends that people should be able to lay complaints at several locations where they feel comfortable asking for assistance, and that complainants be interviewed by staff of the complaints investigator, not members of the police service.

"We wanted a place for people to go to other than a police station to lodge a complaint against a police officer," Atchison said. "How would you feel going in there and the person you're going to lodge the complaint against is taking the complaint? I don't think that's right."

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Glenn Johnstone, a member of the committee, said he's proud of the work that has been done, calling it "a major stepping stone for future development."

"Our people — the First Nations people and the Metis people, who are also our brothers -- we live in this city and we face a lot of obstacles to succeeding and doing well," Johnstone said. "Having a bad relationship with the police is not good at all for our people and what we want to accomplish in life."

Atchison said the biggest challenge will be getting more aboriginal officers on the police force, which he said is a concern for all police forces.

Sabo said the police service is making a difference with its recruiting initiatives.

"In our last hiring phase, we had a First Nations person that we sent down to recruit training in Regina," Sabo told reporters.

But Greg Curtis, a lawyer for Stonechild's mother Stella Bignell, said there's "little" in the report that will make Bignell happy.

"Having this report give an indication that there might be progress in the future for the way the police department handles relations in this city is certainly a welcome step in the right direction. It's been a long time coming," Curtis said.

"But for her, and for people like Darrell Night and other people, it doesn't really address their specific grievance here, where they feel they are entitled to some type of accounting."

The report released Wednesday is currently in draft form. The police commission would still like to receive further input and ideas from the public. As a result, a public open house will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 27, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Centennial Auditorium. Anyone interested in commenting on the report is invited to attend.

The full report is available on the City of Saskatoon website at www.city.saskatoon.sk.ca, at the city clerk's office and at all local public libraries.

RECOMMENDATIONS

On Wednesday, the Saskatoon board of police commissioners released a report from the committee on strategic renewal.

More than 30 strategies, steps and actions were listed in the report, which were "designed to enhance the level of trust and confidence between the Saskatoon community and its police service," according to a media release from the police commission.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS:

- That the chief of police be instructed to ensure that at least one, and preferably two, of the aboriginal liaison officer positions are filled by aboriginal members.

- Having a constant presence on aboriginal education campuses in Saskatoon to interact and form relationships with aboriginal students and to "sell" the Saskatoon Police Service.

- The implementation of a program similar to "Super Saturdays," where aboriginal high school students from Saskatoon and adjacent reserves attend a Saturday at the police station to learn about the police service, to become more comfortable with police officers and to become aware of policing as a possible career choice.

- That the minister of justice be requested to review The Police Act, with the assistance of the Saskatoon board of police commissioners, to determine whether the act contains barriers to the ability to hire, retain and move forward aboriginal members.

- That the chief of police be instructed to place an aboriginal officer into the aboriginal recruiting constable position, which was created in the Saskatoon Police Service 2005 operating budget.

The report also recommends that the minister of justice be requested to implement changes to the public complaints process, and that the entire process fall under the office of the provincial complaints investigator. Here are some of the related points in the report:

- That people be able to lay complaints at several locations where they would feel comfortable asking for assistance and have someone who already works in those offices trained to assist them in taking their complaints.

- That complainants be interviewed by staff of the complaints investigator, rather than members of the police service.

- That the investigators hired by the office of the complaints investigator not be retired police officers. This contributes to the perception of "the police investigating the police," according to the report. The hiring of First Nations and aboriginal investigators is a priority.

Source: Report from the committee on strategic renewal

Stonechild Inquiry; Ran with fact box "Recommendations" which has been appended to the story.


After Stonechild: rebuilding trust

Recruitment of aboriginal and minority candidates. Training in race relations. Better handling of public complaints against the police. Such reform proposals are all too familiar. It doesn't matter that the incidents behind the Stonechild inquiry — Saskatoon police took Neil Stonechild, 17, into custody and he was later found dead — occurred in 1990, almost 15 years ago.

The full text of this article has 1015 words. — and the Globe and Mail wants $4.75 to read it.


This was part of our publicity campaign prior to September 6, 2003 when both the Stonechild Inquiry and the Klassen civil matter were to begin


Hatchen, Munson release target of police protesters

A small group of citizens held yet another protest beside Saskatoon police headquarters for several hours Friday, in an effort to highlight their concerns with the justice system and various policing-related issues.

The protesters want an apology for Darrell Night, who was abandoned on the outskirts of the city in freezing temperatures by former police officers Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen. The former officers were released Friday after serving more than half of their eight-month sentences.

Richard Klassen, who is restricted from demonstrating at the police station but remains affiliated with the protesters, said they were trying to send a message to the public.

"The message was that Munson and Hatchen got out right now and there's still no apology for Darrell Night. That's No. 1," he said in a telephone interview.

On Friday, the protesters also circulated a petition in support of Chief Russell Sabo and Mayor Jim Maddin, and distributed photocopied clippings of news stories relating to an upcoming high-profile trial.

A multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against prosecutors, therapists and police by several people wrongly accused of ritual child abuse will go to trial on Sept. 8. The case led to dozens of charges against Klassen and several others.

Three children fabricated wild stories about Satanic rituals and sexual abuse that they suffered at the hands of Klassen and others.

Although one protester — who wore a mask that hid his face — shouted loudly outside the police station on Friday, police cannot act on the matter or lay charges unless they receive a complaint from a member of the public, said Acting Insp. Lorne Constantinoff.

Last month, Klassen was charged with creating a disturbance by yelling during a similar protest outside police headquarters, where he spoke into a bullhorn. At the time, police said the charge stemmed from complaints they received from private citizens.

Klassen said the next protest will likely take place on Monday morning, in front of City Hall.

Friday's event marked about the 14th protest the demonstrators have held this year.


Natives feel hurt about Stonechild opinions: Johnstone

Aboriginal people are fearful and hurt by divided opinion about the Neil Stonechild inquiry report, the grand chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council told police commissioners Thursday.

"A lot of people don't have the whole picture, but there's a feeling of mistrust and fear," said Chief Glenn Johnstone, whom Mayor Don Atchison asked to address the police commission.

"It bothers me that people are feeling that way."

Doubts by some on the accuracy of Justice David Wright's findings — from police officers and civilian supporters of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger -- have further generated mistrust among aboriginal people, Johnstone said.

"When (police officers) start questioning the inquiry, it makes police look like they're trying to cover and hide," he said. "I was really surprised to see so much questioning of the inquiry."

The Saskatoon City Police Association disagrees with some key findings of Wright's report into Stonechild's death in 1990, including that the constables had the 17-year-old in custody the night he died.

Lawyers for Hartwig and Senger completed the paperwork Thursday to appeal their dismissals from the force and said they plan to file it this morning.

The next steps involve Saskatchewan Justice appointing a hearing officer and lawyers for all parties meeting to discuss dates to hear the appeal.

Johnstone told commissioners that the most important aspect of police culture that must change is attitude.

"People (who commit crimes) know they're in the wrong, but you don't need to be treated like less than human beings," he said.

The biggest obstacle to the force hiring more aboriginal officers, something Wright recommends, is not a lack of qualifications but fear, Johnstone said.

"Police are seen as the enemy. Would I walk into an area if I sensed they were racist?" he asked.

Johnstone will help police commissioners draft a plan to restore confidence in the city's police service.

He has accepted a position on a key police commission subcommittee charged with responding to Wright's recommendations.

Two of the subcommittee's four confirmed members are aboriginal, with one or two more appointments still possible.

Atchison said in a news release he expects Johnstone's presence to strengthen aboriginal confidence in the police service.

Saskatoon police commissioners exceeded the expectations of Michael Tochor, who chairs the Saskatchewan commission, when he met with them earlier this week to discuss a plan to restore confidence in the force. The inquiry report has been public for four weeks.

"I'm quite surprised by the progress they have made," Tochor said in an interview.

"They made it very evident that they had been working on a lot of issues before the Stonechild inquiry report came out."

The Saskatoon police commission expects to complete a draft of its plan by month's end.

Tochor said the provincial commission will review it and ask for feedback from police Chief Russell Sabo, the city police association and Regina police college before submitting the plan to Justice Minister Frank Quennell.


Manitoba chief offers Stonechild family funds to launch possible civil suit

The chief of a Manitoba First Nation is opening a trust fund to help raise money for the family of Neil Stonechild should they choose to file a civil lawsuit against the City of Saskatoon or the two officers who were found to have had Stonechild in their custody the night he died.

Terrance Nelson, chief of the Roseau River reserve 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg, said he'll contribute at least $1,000 in hopes that Stonechild's family will file a civil suit.

"We are offering our support to the family and our support will not just be verbal, it will be financial," Nelson said.

In 1990, the 17-year-old Stonechild's frozen body was found in Saskatoon's north industrial area five days after he was last seen alive.

Stonechild inquiry commissioner Justice David Wright found Saskatoon police constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger had the youth in their cruiser the night he died and that marks on the teen's face were likely caused by handcuffs. Police Chief Russell Sabo fired Hartwig and Senger on Nov. 12.

Nelson is challenging other aboriginal groups to contribute to the trust fund.

"For far too long we have allowed governments to ignore the plight of First Nations people in matters of justice," Nelson wrote in a letter to a local aboriginal activist. "Our experience is clear. If we don't sue, they will ignore us."

He said a successful lawsuit is the only way to make government officials realize violence against aboriginals can no longer be tolerated.

"We feel very clearly that the city and the province has to take this seriously, and the only way they can do that is through a financial hit," Nelson said.

"There's very clear evidence that Indian people are being targeted," he said. "We feel that we need to make police officers accountable for their actions."

Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, declined to say whether the family will pursue a civil suit in her son's death. Bignell's lawyer, Donald Worme, could not be reached for comment.

If Stonechild's family decides against filing a civil suit, the trust fund money would be available for other civil suits, Nelson said.

"It's money that's going to be available," he said.

"It's going to be available for trust suits and it will be (used) for issues of police brutality."

Today, concerned community members are marching from the University of Saskatchewan bowl to the Saskatoon police station in what they call a March for Justice.

Rachel Fiddler, a march organizer and member of the U of S Indigenous Students Council, said she hasn't discussed donating to the trust fund with the other organizers, but it's something they might consider.

The march, which begins at 11 a.m. and goes to the downtown police station via the First Nations University, will show support for Stonechild's family, the police chief and Wright, Fiddler said.

"It's a very controversial matter and I know that both of them (Wright and Sabo) have been getting scrutinized by the people they work with and about the decisions they've made," Fiddler said.

"We just think regardless of it being a political decision or a controversial matter, (Sabo) made a very courageous decision and he will be getting scrutinized for it. A lot of the police within the force didn't support his decision and I can't imagine what it must be like."


Police chief on hot seat

In order to understand how the police service works in this town, you have to think of it as if it was a political party. The chief is the leader, the police officers represent a somewhat mutinous caucus and the rest of us, well, we're the voters trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. Of course, we don't get to vote, but the comparison makes it a lot easier to see why police Chief Russell Sabo's position on the Stonechild inquiry changes with the breeze. Just a week ago, the chief was making an impassioned speech about the need for the police to come to grips with the stark findings of Justice David Wright's inquiry into the death of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild in 1990. To my mind at least, his remarks seemed unequivocal. Given what he's now telling the police service membership, it's worth recapping the remarks Sabo made at a news conference on Oct. 26.

"On behalf of the Saskatoon Police Service, I am publicly apologizing to Mrs. Stella Bignell and her family for 14 years of frustration and denial they have endured over the tragic death of Neil Stonechild," Sabo said.

"The loss of a loved one is never easy and the circumstances surrounding Neil's death are truly heartbreaking."

"I cannot begin to imagine the grief this family has faced. I can, however, say that I am truly sorry that the Saskatoon Police Service let them down. I also hope that in some small way the findings and recommendations of the commission of inquiry is some comfort to the family and helps them on their journey to achieve closure. I've only had a short time to review the commission report but I accept the summary of the findings and the recommendations listed by the honorable Mr. Justice David H. Wright, the commissioner for this inquiry.

"I believe his conclusions must be accepted and acted upon," Sabo went on to say.

He did not quibble with Wright's characterization of the police investigation as a shoddy and superficial effort. Nor did he disagree with his findings that throughout the inquiry, the police chose a defensive posture over an open attitude.

Indeed, he called Wright "a respected jurist" who provided a "thoughtful and independent review" of the case.

That review put Neil Stonechild in the police car operated by constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger in the Confederation Park area. Wright did not say they dumped Stonechild — his body was found in the northeast industrial area — but he did say that they had time to do so.

So how to explain Sabo's statement to his members during a morning briefing that he doesn't believe they did it? Why would he even allow himself to be drawn into answering the question?

To understand that, you have to recognize the rebellious nature of Sabo's caucus, that is, the rank-and-file police officers. For them, rejecting Wright's key finding that Stonechild was in that police cruiser has become a litmus test of loyalty.

They have made it crystal clear to Sabo that they will do whatever they can to make his life a misery if he fails to accept their version of reality. While they're muttering darkly about doing "whatever it takes" to defend Hartwig and Senger, they're also negotiating a new contract. There's nothing like union solidarity at a time like this, especially when the chief will be seeking concessions.

If he were a politician, you might conclude that Sabo is caught between trying to satisfy two rival constituencies at the same time. Publicly, he wants to reassure aboriginals that he's cleaning up the force. His message on this score has plainly been that he intends to deal with whatever vestiges remain of the old boy's network within the police service that thinks dropping people off in the wilds is acceptable.

Privately, he wants to reassure the rank and file that he is still one of them, whatever a judge might say about a couple of his boys.

Unfortunately, Sabo can't have it both ways on this question. He can either be popular with his members or he can make good on his pledge to transform the institution.

The Stonechild inquiry and the ensuing report did not occur in a vacuum, after all. It follows the conviction of two police officers for dumping Darrell Night on the southern outskirts of the city. It also comes after two other Native men were found frozen to death in mysterious circumstances in the same area. The inquiry itself heard testimony from Saskatoon police officers that dropping people off in remote areas was not unheard of. Indeed, the suggestion was made that one such incident "seemed like a good idea at the time."

For Sabo to reject the essence of what the Stonechild inquiry was about is tantamount to turning his back on those who look to him to change the culture within the police service.

What he seems to be forgetting is that this is not only about the careers of two police officers. It's about public confidence in the police force.

This is, or at least ought to be, the overriding principle governing the Saskatoon police commission. So it's not at all reassuring to discover police commission chair Don Atchison is also suffering from a sudden attack of amnesia.

Standing beside Sabo last week, the mayor said he accepts Justice Wright's conclusions. Yet when asked Wednesday if he still feels that way, Atchison seemed less than certain about what Wright's findings actually were. Assured that Wright concluded Stonechild was in the police car, Atchison said, "OK, well, I haven't read that yet. So, I will read it this weekend."

While he's catching up on his reading, Atchison might also want to take a look at the Police Act. It not only outlines the chief's options with regard to disciplining errant members of the force, it also talks about the police commission's power to suspend or fire the chief if they find it necessary to maintain public confidence in the police service.

It sounds severe, but in a town that has gone through five police chiefs since Neil Stonechild disappeared, anything is possible.


Officers back suspended cops
Unanimous support for association's stance on Wright report

In a united show of support, more than 200 members of the Saskatoon City Police Association rallied behind two constables linked to the Stonechild case in a meeting at the Centennial Auditorium Tuesday night.

"We received the unanimous support of our position in regard to Justice (David) Wright's findings," said association president Const. Stan Goertzen.

Neil Stonechild's frozen body was found in a north industrial field in November 1990.

A goverment-commissioned inquiry into the teen's death concluded with a report by Wright that criticized the police handling of the investigation and suggested evidence linked constables Brad Senger and Larry Hartwig to Stonechild the night he went missing.

Goertzen has publicly disagreed with three findings of the report, while police Chief Russell Sabo has accepted its findings.

The police association president said he does not agree that Hartwig and Senger encountered Stonechild the evening he went missing during a search of the area near the apartment block he was reported, that they took him into custody and that marks on Stonechild's face were likely caused by handcuffs.

"These are two people that haven't been charged with anything and are two people that haven't been found guilty of anything, yet somebody is going to fire them, that's wrong," Goertzen said in an earlier interview.

Goertzen suspects the chief will fire the constables on Thursday.

"If any other citizen lost their job when they hadn't been charged with something and they hadn't been found guilty of doing anything wrong, there would be public outcry, I would imagine."

The officers have been on paid suspension since Oct. 26.

Goertzen said the association also received unanimous support Tuesday night to back Hartwig and Senger with moral and monetary support.

The officers have not been given a fair shake, Goertzen said.

"Our concern right now is that due process will not be given and has not been given so far and the fact that the chief is even contemplating firing these guys without a trial or any type of hearing is wrong from our perspective."

At this point, Goertzen said proof is necessary in fairness to the officers.

"From our perspective we would like to have somebody come and tell us specifically one thing that Larry or Brad had done, not someone's opinion," he said after Tuesday night's meeting.

Goertzen will meet with Sabo today to discuss the constables' status, he said.

He said the association will find out how the issue will unfold before planning its next move.

"We are going to navigate through these guys to get a fair hearing and due process just like anyone else before we make another statement," he said.

"We have faith in the justice system, we all believe in it, but that faith has been badly, badly shaken when there is a suggestion . . . anyone of us should get punished or convicted, even when if it's just in the public eye, when we haven't had a fair hearing or a fair trial."


Evidence doesn't support suspensions of constables

I would like to respond, although it may not be popular in some circles, to the recent suspensions of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger. I don't believe they had anyting to do with Neil Stonechild's death.

The RCMP, an independent law enforcement agency, found there was not enough evidence to substantiate a criminal charge in the courts. You would think that should carry some weight. Apparently it did not.

A public inquiry is supposed to make recommendations to agencies or services on how they can improve to prevent further tragedies or deficiencies. I have always been led to believe that this type of inquiry is not to lay blame or suggest criminal responsibility — that is a process for the courts.

I agree that police investigative procedures after the Stonechild death were totally lacking, but based on evidence presented, I don't believe that Stonechild was in the custody of Hartwig and Senger.

It certainly could not be proven from a criminal perspective. Mere suspicion or balance of probabilities just doesn't cut it here.

Every individual in Canada has to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court, not a public inquiry.

Obviously, my perception of the evidence is much different from the judge's.

However, I am entitled to my opinion.

It is quite apparent that as a result of the decision and recommendations of the inquiry that police administration will be seeking termination of these two officers. This seems like an abuse of process that's aimed at gratifying special interest groups and feeding the misguided perception that the police cannot be trusted in this community.

Blake Lindsby

Saskatoon


The Stonechild Inquiry

Mistrust lingers in Saskatoon
Natives continue to lack faith in police despite protracted inquests and trials

After two years of investigations, inquests and one controversial trial, the wound of mistrust between Saskatoon's aboriginal community and the city police would appear ready to heal.But not yet.

Of the six major cases investigated by an RCMP task force formed in 2000 to probe possible police mistreatment of aboriginals, five have run their course through the judicial system.

Still to be settled, however, is the oldest, most mysterious and possibly the most important case of all: the death in 1990 of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild.

A friend has consistently maintained that he last saw the youth bloodied and screaming for help in the back of a police cruiser.

A three-month investigation by city police into Mr. Stonechild's death found that he died of hypothermia near a Saskatoon industrial park.

The original autopsy reported only superficial scratches on his body.

His file was closed.

In a surprise move last year, the RCMP task force had Mr. Stonechild's body exhumed for a second autopsy.

Most believe the only evidence a further autopsy could find is the presence, or absence, of crushed or broken bones.

His family suspects he was severely beaten.

"I would say, given what we hear from sources and on the street, if half of what we hear is true, it's going to be an international story and put a bad light on our fine city," said John Lagimodiere, publisher of Saskatoon-based Eagle Feather News.

According to one source, the two main suspects in the continuing RCMP investigation are still employed by the Saskatoon Police Service and that is causing some "nail-biting" over the decision whether to lay charges.

"It would confirm a lot of fears and the city will be up in a uproar," said Mr. Lagimodiere.

Meanwhile, Saskatoon police, who feel the protracted inquests and trials have painted the whole force in a bad light, just want the RCMP task-force work, and the Stonechild investigation, to wrap up soon.

"We're anxious for it to be concluded. Nobody wants to be facing constant criticism," said David Haye, vice-president of the Saskatoon Police Association. "People want to know the result; they want it to end and they want to move on."

Saskatoon's native community wants to know too — but there is a lingering sense that the odds are stacked against the triumph of truth.

The two-year judicial roller coaster of cases the RCMP task force investigated has left them dissatisfied with the results.

Inquests determined Darcy Ironchild took a drug overdose at home after being released from police custody; Lloyd Dustyhorn's freezing death outside an apartment building had no link to his previous police contact; and the causes of Rodney Naistus's and Lawrence Wegner's deaths — their frozen bodies were found within days of each other near a Saskatoon power plant in 2000 — could not be determined.

Two officers, Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, were charged with unlawful confinement and sentenced to eight months in prison in the case of Darrell Night, who was abandoned in bitterly cold temperatures in the same area, and in the same week the bodies of Mr. Wegner and Mr. Naistus were found.

"From the community perspective, it has just affirmed more and more that there's a police investigation and a prosecutorial discretion problem that they already knew existed," said Sakej Henderson, director of the University of Saskatchewan's Native Law Centre.

"The charges that were laid against Hatchen and Munson was really the lowest kind of standard the Crown could think of — why don't they just charge them with littering?"

Recent inquests into the deaths of Mr. Naistus and Mr. Wegner have been even more frustrating, Mr. Henderson said.

He believes that if city police had preserved evidence properly, criminal investigations would have borne more substantial results.

The lack of faith in the police work among Saskatoon aboriginals is such that the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has set up its own investigative unit with the help of a former RCMP officer.

This unit brought forward two eyewitnesses to the disappearance of Mr. Wegner.