injusticebusters logo

Inquiry into freezing death of Neil Stonechild

Officer calls investigator 'dismissive'

A Saskatoon police constable says he was "very frustrated" that the investigator looking into the 1990 freezing death of Neil Stonechild dismissed information that might have answered questions about how the Saulteaux youth got to the remote north industrial area where his body was found.

Ernie Louttit

Const. Ernie Louttit told the inquiry looking into Stonechild's death that investigator Sgt. Keith Jarvis was "argumentative" and "dismissive" when Louttit went to him with concerns about the case in January 1991, about a month after the death.

On Dec. 4, 1990, less than a week after Stonechild's frozen body was found, the youth's brother told Louttit he had heard Neil was at a party in the north end of the city and had been beaten and dumped by two brothers with whom he had previously had a dispute, Louttit said, referring to his notes from that time.

Louttit, then a three-year member of the police service, passed the information on to the major crimes unit.

He pulled the Stonechild file to see what information had already been gathered and made a copy of the documents in the file. He was disturbed to see that on Dec. 5, Jarvis had already concluded the death was accidental.

In his report, Jarvis dismissed tips about the brothers dropping off Stonechild as "unfounded and directed more toward causing disharmony on the street against" the brothers.

The brothers cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Louttit said he wondered why the investigation had ended when there was still no explanation for how Stonechild got to the vacant field a few blocks from the Saskatoon Correction Centre.

He doubted Jarvis' theory that a 17-year-old would go to the adult jail and wanted to know what had become of Stonechild's missing shoe and a ball cap he usually wore. The tip about the party had also not been checked out.

Louttit visited Stonechild's grieving mother, Stella Bignell, who was still waiting for answers about how her son had died.

"I felt that she was being treated poorly in regard to this investigation . . . . It screamed for attention, to be dealt with. It was wrong not to be able to say to her, 'We have done every thing we can . . . we have left no stone unturned.' It was unfair," Louttit said.

Louttit said he thought Stonechild's race or social stature had led to discrimination in the way the case was handled.

Louttit kept his copy of the file in a trunk at home and was able to turn it over to the RCMP, who reopened the case in 2000. The police copy of the file has not been found.

After the January 1991 meeting with Jarvis, Louttit thought he risked being reassigned to a desk job if he persisted in questioning Jarvis about the case.

He told Bignell, in an awkward conversation, that he would not be able to do anything more for her.

Louttit said if he had ever encountered another case handled the same way, he would have quit the Saskatoon police.

Jason Roy

The file documents Louttit copied shed new light on an allegation by Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy (right), who has testified he saw Stonechild in the back seat of a police car, with blood on his face and screaming, "they're gonna kill me."

The documents include a handwritten statement by Roy, dated Nov. 30, 1990, in which Roy says nothing about seeing Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser. It says he and Stonechild were separated while they were at an apartment building looking for a friend and that he blacked out for the rest of that night.

Roy testified he was intimidated into giving that statement while in police custody, probably on Dec. 20. He said he "lied to save (his) life" and was released after making the false statement.

Louttit had a copy of that statement by Dec. 5, 1990, proving it couldn't have been drafted on the 20th.

After being warned off the case, Louttit checked the file some time later anyway. He found that Jarvis had made no mention of their meeting and had not done any more investigation.

The file did contain the autopsy and toxicology reports and a document that did not seem related to the Stonechild case. It pertained to a manslaughter trial in which two accused had been acquitted.

Louttit didn't remember the names and he didn't copy the file because he wasn't supposed to be looking at it.

When asked in cross-examination how the case should have been handled, Louttit said the investigator should have gone to the scene, conducted an intensive search for the shoe, interviewed people who might have been involved and run a Crime Stoppers segment on television to prompt the memories of people who might not realize what they had seen.

"All those things could have been done in very short order, with very little effort and they weren't," Louttit said.

Louttit said the police service is a good organization now and that officer training has improved "a lot" since then.

Louttit said he never once heard a rumour police might have dropped Stonechild off in the sparsely developed area.

If he had, he said, he "absolutely" would have gone to a higher ranking officer with the information or even outside the department to the RCMP.

Earlier in the day, Jason Roy was denied an application for standing at the inquiry, which would provide him funding to have a lawyer at the inquiry full time who would be allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

Inquiry commissioner, Justice David Wright, ruled it would be inappropriate for Roy to have standing.

Roy's lawyer, John Parsons, who stood in for an ill Darren Winegarden, responded that he will seek an injunction to have the proceedings, now in their fourth week, halted while he attempts to appeal Wright's decision.

Brothers linked to case: Police received reports that Stonechild was beaten

Police had information in 1990 that implicated two brothers in Neil Stonechild's death, an inquiry into the case heard Tuesday.

Retired staff sergeant Raymond Pfeil said he answered the Crime Stoppers phone on Dec. 2, 1990, three days after the Saulteaux youth's frozen body was found in a field in the city's north industrial area, and took a report from Kilburn Hall youth worker Diana Fraser.

Fraser had information from a woman who claimed her boyfriend had assaulted Stonechild about a month earlier in which "they almost killed him."

Pfeil's report on the Crime Stoppers call indicates two brothers "are responsible for assaulting Stonechild at the location he was found on 57th Street, had some of his clothing taken, and left to die.

"This information is supposed to have come from the girlfriend of one of the . . . boys and was at her request that the informant call the police," the report states.

The brothers' names can't be published because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

"Bad feelings" between two groups of people were increasing, Pfeil wrote in the report.

The inquiry also heard from Const. Geoffrey Brand, who was driving a police wagon on Nov. 24, 1990, the night Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, says he saw Stonechild bleeding and screaming in the backseat of a police car.

Brand's notebook reveals that on Nov. 30, 1990, -- the day after Stonechild's body was found -- the officer was called to talk to a person in detention and was told that Stonechild and another youth had stolen firearms in one or more break-ins. They had tried to sell the guns to the brothers but the transaction resulted in a dispute and Stonechild was beaten.

The informant (Brand couldn't remember who it was but thought it was probably a man) also said Stonechild had been threatened two weeks after the fight.

Brand dictated a report on the information but never received any questions about it from the investigator.

He never saw the report after it was typed and doesn't know what became of it. He assumes it became part of the Stonechild file.

That document has not surfaced.

The Pfeil report and some other documents from the file, are only available now because Const. Ernie Loutit had copies of them at his home, commission lawyer Joel Hesje said.

Stonechild's family has said Loutit told them he would try to find out how the youth died, even though he wasn't officially assigned to the case. At one point, however, the officer told a family member he had been threatened by superiors with discipline if he continued. He cut off contact with the family after that, they said.

The commission has also attempting to subpoena one of the brothers but has been unable to locate him, Hesje has said.

On Tuesday it heard that none of the five police officers who went to the place where Stonechild's body was found felt it responsible to make sure the investigation ruled out foul play.

That responsibility would have fallen to investigator Keith Jarvis, who was assigned to the case, but he didn't attend the scene.

In his absence, patrol sergeant Michael Petty, identification unit officers Robert Morton and John Middleton, the first officer on the scene, Rene Lagimodiere, and dog handler Const. Gregory Robert simply attempted to preserve the evidence.

Nobody took the responsibility to look for Stonechild's missing shoe, even though the sock on the right foot was worn completely through on the heel and the rest of it blackened.

Robert told the inquiry that he brought a police dog to look for large objects that might be useful to the investigator in the case.

Robert said the body had been in the snowy field in the north industrial area for too long to emit a scent for the dog to follow. Instead, the dog searched for Stonechild's missing running shoe and any other evidence in the vacant field bordered by streets and a couple of businesses in the sparsely developed area.

The 15-minute search came up empty but Robert was not instructed to look further.

It would have been the investigator's decision to order an expanded search to see if there were tracks in the parking lot or out along the roadway, which might have indicated how the youth got to the remote location, Robert said.

The senior officer at the scene testified Monday that he wasn't bothered that an investigator might not come to the scene. He didn't consider the unusual circumstances of the youth being in the remote location, his missing shoe or injuries on his face when he ruled out foul play in his own mind.

On Tuesday Pfeil agreed under cross examination by Don Worme, the Stonechild family's lawyer, that that disinterest in the case was "bad policing."

Pfeil recounted an incident in his own experience as a patrol sergeant, where two morality section officers were reluctant to investigate the death of an elderly aboriginal woman as a possible homicide.

Pfeil insisted that the coroner and identification unit be brought in and by the end of the day, it was determined that foul play had occurred, but didn't believe the initial reluctance had anything to do with the victim being aboriginal.

Like others police witnesses, Pfeil cannot find his notebook from the period surrounding the death.

Unlike other officers, Pfeil said he has never destroyed his notes from his first 25 years with the Saskatoon police -- he has hundreds of them in the basement at home -- but his exhaustive searches since 2000 when RCMP first asked for them, have all failed to turn up these particular books.

Brand surprised Hesje when he produced his notebook Tuesday, saying he had found it just the night before. The commission adjourned so that seven lawyers representing those with standing at the commission could examine the notebooks.

They found that on the Nov. 24-25 overnight shift, Brand hadn't noted a single incident. Everything he recorded that night was keyed directly into the on-board computer, he said.

The notes did reveal the informant conversation.

Under cross examination by lawyers representing constables Brad Senger and Larry Hartwig, Pfeil said he knew the officers and couldn't imagine either of them leaving a young person to fend for himself on the outskirts of the city.

When asked by Worme if he could imagine former constables Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson abandoning a man in cold weather, Pfeil said he couldn't have imagined that either.

Hatchen and Munson were fired from the Saskatoon police in 2001 after they were convicted of forcible confinement for abandoning Darrel Night, a Cree man, on the outskirts of the city in January 2000. They were sentenced to eight-month jail terms.

On Tuesday Pfeil also said a re-organization of the Saskatoon Police Service in 1989 and 1990 eliminated specialized sections and resulted in officers sometimes handling cases for which they had no special training.

The special sections system was brought back about a year later, he said.

Silas Halyk, lawyer for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, was skeptical about the coincidence of Pfeil having three different roles in the Stonechild case, including acting staff sergeant on the day the body was found, the person responsible for processing the report from Lagimodiere five days later and the officer who answered Fraser's Crime Stoppers phone call.

Pfeil agreed it was coincidental but said that's how it happened.

Halyk also asked whether the Saskatoon police service created a "shadow police force" to follow the RCMP after its investigation started in the wake of the Night case.

Pfeil said he had never heard of such a thing.

Stonechild witness foggy on details

The person closest to Jason Roy the night he says he saw Neil Stonechild in the back of a police car could not clearly remember what he told her that night.

Cheryl Antoine, who was 15 and pregnant with Roy's child in November 1990, wept Thursday as she told the commission of inquiry into Stonechild's death about events surrounding the last time she saw Stonechild alive.

Antoine began her testimony with certainty but floundered under cross-examination as she was confronted with two statements she gave RCMP investigators in 2000.

Antoine told commission lawyer Joel Hesje, during examination in chief, a detailed account of Roy telling her and friend Julie Binning that Stonechild, 17, had been picked up by the police, that he (Roy) had given police a fake name to avoid arrest and had denied knowing Stonechild when asked if he knew the youth in the back of their car.

Under cross-examination, she acknowledged telling an investigator with an RCMP task force looking into the possibility of police involvement in the deaths of several aboriginal men that she had a "vague" memory of Roy saying he "thought" he'd seen Stonechild in a police car.

Roy and Stonechild had spent part of the night playing cards and drinking at the Binning house at 3269 Milton St. before setting out on foot around 11 p.m.

The pair were intoxicated and the weather was bitterly cold, but they wanted food from the 7-Eleven, three blocks away on 33rd Street.

More than an hour later Roy returned without Stonechild.

He has long maintained that he and Stonechild separated at the Snowberry Downs apartments on 33rd Street, where Stonechild was trying to locate a girl he knew.

Roy says that after stopping at the 7-Eleven to warm up, he was walking back to the Binning residence and was stopped by police who had Stonechild in the back seat. Stonechild had blood on his face and was screaming Roy's name and saying "they're gonna kill me."

Roy, who was then in breach of probation, said he gave an alias to avoid arrest and thought his friend would contact him after he got out of young offender custody.

Stonechild's frozen body was found in a field in the north industrial area five days later on Nov. 29, 1990.

The death by cold exposure was ruled accidental and police told the media they thought Stonechild died while trying to walk to the adult correctional centre.

Lawyers representing Stonechild's family, the police service, the police union, two individual police officers and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations have questioned numerous witnesses trying to determine when Roy first talked about seeing Stonechild in a police car.

Several witnesses have acknowledged that because of the passage of time since Stonechild died they have difficulty distinguishing between their actual memories and things they have picked up from other people or learned in the news.

Antoine said that when Stonechild's mother phoned the Binning residence looking for him the day after he went missing, neither she nor Roy told her about his being picked up by the police.

She and Roy were at her residence at 11th Street and Avenue P South later that week, when Stonechild's mother phoned and told Roy that Stonechild had died.

Roy told Antoine, "Neil's dead and I think the police took him," she recalled.

Antoine said she urged Roy to go to the police with his information but he said, "I don't know." Thinking he meant he didn't remember, she urged him "to get hypnotized or something."

"Then we just sat there, crying," she said.

Antoine said Roy was surprised to see two diagonal abrasions on Stonechild's nose when he viewed the body at the funeral. She said Roy said he hadn't seen the injury before.

Antoine corroborated Roy's claim that after Stonechild's funeral, two people came to the house at 11th Street and Avenue P South and asked Roy questions about the last time he had seen Stonechild.

Antoine's memory differed from Roy's in that she didn't think he told the pair about seeing Stonechild in the police car.

She thought the pair were a male and female dressed in business clothes andsaid that she didn't know if they were police or counsellors of some sort.

Roy has said that on that occasion he told a police officer the entire story on condition he not be arrested on the probation breach.

He has said that weeks later, on Dec. 20, 1990, he was arrested, placed in a police interview room and asked if he wanted to reconsider the earlier statement.

He said he made a false statement clearing the police because he was afraid of them and wanted to be released.

That statement was submitted to the commission as an exhibit but it is dated Nov. 30, the day after Stonechild's body was found.

Oddly enough, records from the Dec. 20 arrest show that police appear to have turned Roy over to himself: Jason Roy's name appears in the space where one of his parents should have been named on a parent's notice form. The breach of probation was not dealt with at that time either.

Julie Binning also related events of Nov. 24, 1990, for the inquiry Thursday.

She recalled that when Roy returned he said he had "lost" Stonechild.

"He said he might have been picked up by the police," Binning said.

She also told the RCMP in 2000 that Roy "wasn't sure if it was the police or not" which picked up Stonechild.

Stonechild's cousin, Bruce Genaille, also told the inquiry he recalls being stopped by the police about a week before Stonechild's body was found. He had been walking from the same 7-Eleven store when a cruiser stopped him and asked if he was Neil Stonechild.

He gave them his name and showed them identification but they didn't seem to believe him and persisted with the question.

He is certain there was nobody in the back seat of the car at that time.

Police sometimes 'unarrest' people
Individuals dropped off someplace other than police detention, officer tells inquiry

A Saskatoon police constable told the commission of inquiry looking into the 1990 freezing death of Neil Stonechild that police sometimes use their discretion in deciding to "unarrest" individuals and drop them off someplace other than at police detention.

Const. Brett Maki, a 13-year member of the Saskatoon Police Service, acknowledged that officers sometimes arrest people and later let them out of the car in a safe place without making any mention of it in their notes.

The information was elicited by Silas Halyk, lawyer for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, in cross-examination, who has asked every police officer so far the same question of whether they have knowledge of police leaving people in places other than police detention.

Drew Plaxton, lawyer for the police union, had twice before objected to the question, arguing that it was nothing more than a fishing expedition designed to bring out information that would tarnish the reputation of the police.

Plaxton has argued there would be no way for police to investigate vague allegations of past incidents. Bringing up other instances would broaden the scope of the inquiry beyond its mandate, he said.

Halyk and commission lawyer Joel Hesje both argued in reply that the question goes to the very heart of the inquiry.

If officers investigating the Stonechild death knew that police sometimes drop people off in unauthorized locations, it could affect the way they investigated the case, Hesje said.

Inquiry commissioner Justice David Wright twice ruled that the question is legitimate but that Halyk may not ask for specifics.

Maki said that, for example, police called to break up a rowdy party might place a person who doesn't want to leave in the back of the police car. If, after the other people have dispersed and the individual has calmed down, the police may give that person a warning and drive him or her a couple of blocks away, home, to the mall or to some other safe place, he said.

"The person's placed under arrest and later he's unarrested and placed either at his home or another safe place," Maki said.

Under cross-examination by Donald Worme, the lawyer for Stonechild's family, Maki expanded on that, saying he doesn't always make a note of it in his notebook.

Maki said he thinks the practice continues. The last time he did it was sometime last year, he said.

Maki said policy requires that he radio the dispatcher and tell them he is giving someone a ride from one place to another and give the mileage on the vehicle.

In response to a question from Barry Rossman, lawyer for the Saskatoon Police Service, Maki acknowledged there is no policy allowing officers to let people out anywhere other than detention once they have been arrested.

Rossman asked Maki if he was aware of a policy directive, issued after the 2002 inquest into the freezing death of Lawrence Wegner, that police are to make notes every time they have someone in their cars.

"We get a lot of directives and I'm not up on every one of them," Maki said.

"Perhaps you better get up on that one," Rossman said.

The inquiry also heard Wednesday that the first officer on the scene of Neil Stonechild's frozen body destroyed his notebook within weeks of giving photocopies of notes about the case to a 2000 RCMP task force looking into the possibility of police involvement in the deaths of several aboriginal men, including Stonechild and Wegner.

Rene Lagimodiere told the inquiry he destroyed all his handwritten notes when he retired in March 2000.

Earlier that month, he had given a photocopy of the notebook to RCMP Const. Jack Warner who was investigating the Stonechild death.

Lagimodiere said he can't remember if he shredded notebooks from 26 years of service or threw them in a dumpster.

Halyk expressed surprise that an experienced officer would destroy a piece of evidence in a case that he knew was currently under investigation.

Lagimodiere said he gave all the notes he had on the matter to Warner.

"There was nothing in that notebook I was trying to hide," Lagimodiere said.

Dr. Jack Adolph, the pathologist who conducted the original, 1990 autopsy on Stonechild's body, told the inquiry that none of the injuries on the body were traumatic enough to have caused his death. The abrasions on his face and other small ones on his knees and torso were consistent with injuries he has seen on other people who became disoriented before collapsing from hypothermia.

When shown a photo of handcuffs superimposed over two diagonal abrasions on Stonechild's nose, Adolph said he couldn't rule out handcuffs as having caused the marks but said he didn't think the outside curve of handcuffs would be rough enough to scratch the skin the way it was.

Adolph said the marks on Stonechild's nose were abrasions not lacerations, meaning the top layer of skin was scratched off but the skin break didn't extend right through the skin.

The scratches could have appeared deep to a layperson because the nose skin had swelled, as is a normal part of the thawing process, he said.

Stonechild had blood-alcohol content of .15, or about twice the legal driving limit, Adolph said. He didn't think that would be enough to cause the youth to pass out.

Adolph found a small stone inside the one shoe Stonechild was wearing when he was found in a field in the north industrial area of the city.

"I thought it was an unusual finding for someone found out in the open," he said.

Questions plagued coroner
'Obvious deduction' handcuffs caused wounds: Fern

The coroner who was called to the scene of Neil Stonechild's frozen body didn't order an inquest even though he had many questions that were not answered by a police investigation.

"He wasn't on the road and clearly this isn't an area where people normally go walking in that kind of weather," Dr. Brian Fern told the commission of inquiry looking into the 1990 freezing death of the Saulteaux youth.

"This seemed a strange place to be. So there were questions there to be asked. How did he get there? Why was he not on the road side?"

Fern said he expected the police to investigate the death and eventually communicate their findings to him. They never did and no inquest was called.

Fern acknowledged, under cross-examination by Silas Halyk, lawyer for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, that as coroner, he was responsible for deciding whether an inquest was necessary.

It was his responsibility to answer the questions of the cause of death and the mode of death.

Fern was shown an autopsy photo of Stonechild's face and the same picture with handcuffs superimposed over two diagonal lacerations on the nose.

He said it was possible the lacerations could have been made by the handcuffs and that slight deviations in the otherwise straight lines could have been caused by movement of the face as pressure was applied or by the nose being compressed.

"As an ordinary layman, it was an obvious deduction," he said.

The picture of handcuffs over the nose marks "might well have" had a significant effect on his conclusions if he had seen it in 1990, Fern said.

The marks could also have been made by fingernails and a thumbnail or by the frozen stalks of weeds found in the area of the body, he said.

The weeds seemed unlikely to Fern, who said he thinks the lacerations were made some time before Stonechild's death because of the way the blood had dried.

Under cross-examination by Donald Worme, lawyer for Stonechild's family, Fern acknowledged there were also unanswered questions about why the 17-year-old had only one shoe and why the sock on the unshod foot was worn out through the heel and blackened near the ball and toes.

Fern did not order any tests to determine if there was any trace amounts of blood or other bodily fluids on Stonechild's clothing.

He never asked the police to explain why the questions were never answered.

There were no formal guidelines from the chief coroner's office dictating when an inquest should be called, other than a statutory requirement for one when an individual dies while in custody. Each of the province's approximately 200 coroners used his or her own discretion in calling inquests, he said.

The chief coroner at that time was Dr. Diane Stephenson, who discouraged inquests because they were "not free," Fern said.

The operation was in a phase of transition away from coroners having authority to call inquests and toward today's more formal procedure in which the chief coroner's office makes the decision, he said.

Budgetary constraints were mentioned more than once during Fern's testimony. He said that in 1990 he was paid $70 per case for each coroner's case he took regardless of how much work it required. That fee has risen to $100 per case today, but Fern noted it costs him $150 per hour just to cover overhead at his medical office.

Such financial constraints on himself and on police may have prevented them from doing "a crackerjack" job, he said, noting that things like extensive laboratory tests are costly.

Fern's original information for the death certificate showed Stonechild died from exposure "due to or as a possible consequence of being inebriated." He also noted beside the word "violence" the word "undetermined."

However, Fern did not include that much detail on the official death certificate that was submitted to province's vital statistics branch; that one gives the cause of death as "accidental, exposure" and includes a note stating "tests suggest he was mildly inebriated."

The difference wasn't because he had changed his opinion about the death, he said.

"I'm quite sure I would have written 'undetermined" if I had given it more thought," he said.

Meanwhile, Fern said it was odd that the toxicology report he ordered was sent to the police before it was sent to him.

"It was a case of interest to them for some other reasons," Fern said.

The toxicology report showed a blood alcohol level of 150 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood, or almost twice the legal blood alcohol level for driving. There was no sign of any other drug use.

After Fern was excused, the commission brought back Rene Lagimodiere, a retired police officer who was the first person to the scene after two workers in the north industrial area discovered the body on Nov. 29, 1990.

Worme cross-examined Lagimodiere on testimony he gave Monday, pressing him on why he appeared to dismiss the oddities of the death without at least requesting the opinion of the area sergeant, whom he could have consulted.

"You exercised discretion away from calling an investigator," Worme said.

Lagimodiere said that although he did not ask dispatch to send the patrol sergeant, dispatch could have sent him anyway. It would have been up to the patrol sergeant to call a major crimes investigator.

Lagimodiere acknowledged that there were peculiarities that could well have justified his asking the patrol sergeant to come and take a look, such as why the victim was in the area with no obvious transportation, why was he missing a shoe, where was the shoe, where did he walk to make his sock so dirty, how did he get the two lacerations across his nose and other scratches on his cheek?

He also acknowledged that he didn't investigate the tracks in the snow to try to figure out just where the victim walked and where the workers who found him had walked. Nor did he search the parking lot or road for footprints or signs of a vehicle stopping to eject the person.

Lagimodiere has said he followed police service policy of not requesting a patrol sergeant, who would have decided whether to call an investigator because there were no obvious signs of foul play.

"I wondered how he got out there but, again, that's not cause for believing there's some foul play involved," he said.

"What would he need?" Worme said.

"Would he need a bullet wound in him? Would he need a knife in his back? What would have been a real obvious sign of foul play?" Worme asked.

"I don't know. I can't answer that," Lagimodiere said.

"You exercised that discretion in favour of, because there is no blood, there's no axe in him, no knife in him, there's no bullet wound . . . dismissed the fact he's found out in the middle of nowhere with one shoe on, with no other reasonable explanation for his being there, you exercised discretion away from calling an investigator."

Lagimodiere said he thinks the patrol sergeant did come to the scene. He was also confident that other investigators would continue with the case.

Lagimodiere returns to the stand today.

Officer ruled out foul play
Constable says he followed police procedure

The first police officer at the scene of Neil Stonechild's frozen body in a field in the north industrial area of Saskatoon on Nov. 29, 1990, quickly surmised there had been no foul play in the Saulteaux teenager's death.

Rene Lagimodiere on Monday told the commission of inquiry looking into events surrounding Stonechild's death that after touching the body and determining that it was frozen, he followed the police department policy of using his radio to inform dispatch and to request the police identification unit and a coroner be sent to the scene.

Lagimodiere said he did not ask for the patrol sergeant to be sent out, as he would have done if there had been obvious signs of foul play or of a struggle.

It would have been the patrol sergeant's decision whether to bring in a major crimes investigator.

Stonechild's family has always publicly questioned the lack of an in-depth investigation into the death.

Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, had disclosed, as early as one month after the death, that he had last seen Stonechild in the back seat of a police cruiser, screaming "they're gonna kill me."

A Kilburn Hall supervisor told the inquiry Monday that she did not advise Roy to go to the police with that information.

Police told the press four months after the death, that they thought Stonechild had been intoxicated and was walking to the adult jail, located in the north end of the city a few blocks from where his body was found.

Stonechild was at large from a community home for young offenders at the time of his death.

The police theory didn't satisfy his family or the community home operator, Pat Pickard, who has testified that Stonechild had promised her on the phone the night he went missing that he would turn himself in to her the next day.

His body was found five days later, several kilometres from the place where Roy said he saw Stonechild in the police car.

On Monday, Lagimodiere said he also wondered how the victim had come to be in the remote field, but had followed the police policy, which was that unless there was an obvious sign of foul play, there was no need to call an investigator, he said.

Lagimodiere, now retired, was a constable with 16 years experience at the time. He observed a set of footprints, which he thought were the victim's, which began in a parking lot on the 800 block of 57th Street East. The tracks, which appeared to be several days old, based on the condition of the snow, led north-northeast through a field toward 58th Street.

The tracks led into a ditch that runs east-west through the field, where it appeared the person had fallen and stumbled about before coming back out on the south side of the ditch and heading back toward 57th Street. The body was found a short distance south of the ditch.

There were also fresh tracks left by the two people who found the body.

Lagimodiere did not observe any animal tracks in the area.

Coroner Dr. Brian Fern came and examined the body. Fern turned the body over and checked the chest and stomach for injuries that may have contributed to the death but didn't find any, Lagimodiere said.

Lagimodiere said Fern estimated the body had been there several days.

Lagimodiere said he does not remember noticing two diagonal abrasions on the victim's nose or scratches on the side of his face.

The victim was wearing a blue Boy's Town jacket, a red lumberjack shirt and a T-shirt, with jeans and only one running shoe.

Lagimodiere requested a canine unit come to look for the victim's missing shoe. It arrived shortly after the body was taken by ambulance from the scene. The canine search was brief, lasting only about 15 minutes, he said.

During cross examination, police union lawyer Drew Plaxton tried to determine whether the snow appeared to have been crusted over at the time Stonechild walked and collapsed on it. Plaxton asked whether fresh falling snow would have been crusted.

Lagimodiere didn't know. He didn't observe snow on top of the body, as there may have been if it had snowed after Stonechild collapsed.

Lagimodiere couldn't remember if the 57th Street parking lot, where the tracks appeared to have begun, had been graded or driven on or had bare gravel. He didn't think there were visible footprints on the parking lot.

Lagimodiere was not aware of who the victim was and did not know that police had been dispatched to seek Stonechild five days earlier, on Nov. 24.

Lagimodiere never had any other connection to the Stonechild case. He said he never heard any rumours about possible police involvement in the case until 2000, when an RCMP task force investigator called him at his current home in Victoria, B.C.

Cross examination of Lagimodiere will be delayed until after the coroner takes the stand today.

Earlier on Monday, the inquiry heard from Dianna Fraser, who was a case worker at the Kilburn Hall closed custody facility where Stonechild and his friend Jason Roy had both served terms as young offenders.

Fraser said Roy told her within a month of Stonechild's death that he had been walking from Snowberry Downs apartments and had seen Stonechild in the back seat of a police car screaming, "they're gonna kill me man, they're gonna kill me."

"I believed him," Fraser said.

She said she thought it was after Stonechild's funeral that Roy told her. He had been distraught and was feeling very guilty, she said.

Fraser is the first witness to specify a time soon after the death when Roy described seeing Stonechild in a police car. Other witnesses so far have not been able to say when Roy first told of seeing Stonechild in the police car.

Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, has said Roy told her about it sometime after the snow was gone in 1991.

Another Kilburn Hall worker, Brenda Valiaho, who talked to Roy in Nov. 1991, while she was doing a practicum for her master's degree in educational psychology, has said she thought he was disclosing the incident for the first time when he described the event to her.

On Monday, Fraser said Roy told her about the incident while they were "in the community," meaning she was not at work and they were not at a detention facility at the time. If she had been at work, she would have made a note of it in her work log, she said.

Fraser said she did not advise him to go to the police with his account because she didn't think they would believe him.

"I come from communities where dumping of people who were intoxicated was a common occurrence," Fraser said.

"Most people don't believe our kids. They can tell us things about people in authority but very few people listen to them," she said.

"I'd be setting him up for a horrible ride (if I advised him to tell police)," she said, noting that a predisposition report about Roy that was read into the inquiry record shows he had recurring conflict with the law and repeatedly dropped out of school.

Fraser said she had lived in two other north-central Saskatchewan communities, Leoville and Big River, in the 1960s and knew that RCMP had dropped off intoxicated people in places from which they would have a long walk back.

Prior to Roy telling her what he had seen that night, Fraser had already heard "a flurry of rumours" from youth who were in custody at Kilburn about what might have happened the night Stonechild disappeared.

She phoned the police to tell them she had heard that Stonechild had been at a party attended by another youth who had "given him a licking," about a month earlier.

That youth's name cannot be published under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

She also told police people would be gathering at Stonechild's mother's home after the funeral and she was concerned that there could be conflict between groups of people because emotions were running high. She wanted to "curb" possible trouble at the wake.

About a year later, Fraser was Roy's case worker while he was in custody at Kilburn Hall. He was having difficulty sleeping and she thought it would be helpful for him to have a private session with a worker, so she recommended he talk with Valiaho.

Fraser didn't attempt to have an in-depth discussion with Roy because, as a case-worker, their interviews were done in a room with windows, allowing other youth to observe if he became emotional. She knew he would have the privacy to unburden himself if he talked to Valiaho, who did her sessions in a more private room.

Valiaho has said she thought Roy's memory was blocked before he told her of seeing Stonechild in a police car, while using a visualization technique to relive the event.

The inquiry also heard testimony of Const. Kevin Lewis who responded on Dec. 20, 1990, to a theft at the Saan Store at the former Wildwood Mall on Eighth Street, now the Centre at C ircle and Eighth.

Lewis did not remember anything about the incident but referred to his handwritten notes and other documents related to it.

Roy has said that he was arrested for stealing a purse and was taken to the police station, placed in an interview room, where he was given a blank form and asked if he wanted to "reconsider" an earlier statement in which he described Stonechild in the back of the police car with blood on his face.

Roy has said he made a false statement clearing the police because he wanted to get out of police custody and was afraid of the police. He said the date on the document he wrote on Dec. 20, 1990 is now dated Nov. 30, 1990 and that he is not the one who changed it.

No other statement has been presented to the inquiry.

Lewis said Monday he doesn't recall taking Roy to the police station and doesn't think he did take him there because the paper work didn't have notations that would have been made if he had been brought there.

Lewis said he would have done a police computer check on Roy and would not have brought him to the station unless there had been a warrant for his arrest.

The inquiry has heard that Roy was being sought for breach of probation and on suspicion of robbery.

Documents Lewis filled out show he released Roy 27 minutes after meeting him at the Saan Store, probably in a loss prevention security room.

Lewis couldn't remember and did not have notes on whether he took Roy home, or whether Roy's mother came to get him at the store or at the police station.

A parents' information notice, which must be given to a youth's parents upon release, has Jason Roy's name in the space provided for the name of the parent into whose custody he is being released.

Lewis said that must have been a mistake.

The 27-minute interval would not have been long enough to bring Roy to the station and have him write a statement, then take him home to Avenue I South in winter driving conditions on a busy shopping night before Christmas, he said.

Cops sent to apartment Stonechild visited

Two police constables who were investigated by RCMP in 2000 as suspects in the 1990 death of Neil Stonechild were dispatched to the apartment complex where he was seen trying to find a friend.

A police complaint form dated Nov. 24, 1990, was submitted into evidence at the inquiry looking into the Saulteaux youth's freezing death. It shows that constables Larry Hartwig and Bradley Raymond Senger were dispatched.

Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, has told the inquiry he was separated from Stonechild at the apartment complex and later saw him in the back seat of a police car with blood on his face and screaming, "they're gonna kill me."

Stonechild's frozen body was found five days later in a field in the city's north industrial area.

The complaint was phoned in at 11:49 p.m. by Trevor Ewart, who had recently arrived home to his Snowberry Downs apartment, where Lucille Neetz and Gary Horse were babysitting.

An intoxicated youth, who Ewart later learned was Stonechild, had walked into the suite but Ewart had easily pushed him out. The youth apologized and left, Ewart told the inquiry earlier this week.

Ewart could not recall whether police came to the apartment to talk to him that night.

Hartwig and Senger were dispatched again, at 12:18 a.m., Nov. 25, in response to a call that came in at 11:56 p.m. That call came from Shelly Grigorovich at nearby O'Regan Crescent.

Grigorovich testified Thursday she called the police to tell them she had seen a suspicious person lurking in the area.

She had chased on foot a person she had discovered crouching behind a truck in her driveway but the person had gotten away.

Although there had been no break-in, she wanted to alert police of the suspicious person.

She does not remember if police came to the house or if she saw a police car that night.

Nor could she remember anything about the person she had chased part way down the block.

Hartwig and Senger, who have attended about half of the eight days of hearings so far, do not fit the description that Roy has long given for the officer who was driving the car that night.

Roy has said the driver had a mustache and glasses and that, having seen him elsewhere since, knows that he is over six feet tall. Neither officer has a mustache or glasses.

The inquiry also heard Thursday from the first of many police officers scheduled to testify.

Const. Perry Szabo took the Nov. 13, 1990, report of Stonechild failing to return to an open custody community home for young offenders where he was serving a six-month sentence for break and enter.

The community home operator, Pat Pickard, has testified she reported Stonechild being unlawfully at large that day when he failed to return as required.

Szabo referred to his handwritten notes from Nov. 13, 1990, to recall that Pickard told him Stonechild was supposed to leave the city the next morning at 8:30 to go to Valley River, Man.

Pickard has said she is certain she would not have told police Stonechild had plans to go somewhere at a scheduled time because if she had known he was going to be at the bus depot, for example, she would have gone there herself and apprehended him. As a community home operator, Pickard was a peace officer.

Szabo said he was not aware of rumours after Stonechild's death that police may have been involved in the death.

Earlier in the day the inquiry heard cross-examination of testimony by Father Andre Poilievre, who has known Roy for 15 years.

Police union lawyer Drew Plaxton pointed out that police do have a record of arresting Roy's girlfriend on Feb. 26, 2000, contrary to what a police liaison officer had told Poilievre.

Poilievre said Wednesday Roy had great guilt because he felt he had failed Stonechild by not helping him the night he saw his friend in a police car. Roy had also told Poilievre he was afraid of the police.

Poilievre said he began to think Roy might be justified in thinking police were a threat to him after a couple of strange incidents.

Roy had told the priest Roy's girlfriend had been arrested, taken to the police station, strip searched and released without charges being laid. When Poilievre had called a school liaison officer he knew, Const. Bob Lorne, Lorne told him there was no record of such an arrest.

His suspicion took a firmer hold after he arrived at a house where he had given Roy and his girlfriend refuge to make them feel safe from police.

It was early in the morning and a police car slowly cruised by the house, made a U-turn and went past again, checking out the priest, who had just arrived.

"If it had been an incident in isolation, I wouldn't have noticed, but given the context, I came to a conclusion, rightly or wrongly," Poilievre said.

The inquiry also heard from Flora Binning, who said the house where she lived with her mother and brother in 1990, at 3269 Milton St., was often the scene of teenage gatherings.

Stonechild was at her house drinking alcohol with her boyfriend and other young people on Nov. 24, 1990. She remembered that he was "between tipsy and drunk," when he left to get snacks from the store.

She acknowledged, under cross-examination, that she told RCMP in 2000 that Stonechild left to get more booze.

Binning couldn't remember whether Roy was with him. She said she may have opened the door to Roy later that night, but didn't recall.

After Stonechild's death she heard through Roy's girlfriend at the time that he had seen Stonechild in the police car.

An RCMP task force was created in 2000 to investigate the freezing deaths of two aboriginal men, Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner, whose frozen bodies were found on the western outskirts of the city in January. Within days of their deaths, a third Native man, Darrell Night, complained two police had abandoned him in the same area while he was intoxicated.

Two constables, Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, were convicted, fired and were sentenced to eight-month jail terms.

The commission of inquiry will take Friday off. It resumes Monday at the Sheraton Cavalier.

Mother wants photos to be in public domain

SASKATOON -- Two diagonal lacerations across Neil Stonechild's nose could have been made by handcuffs, photographs from the Saulteaux teenager's 1990 autopsy show.

The commission of inquiry looking into Stonechild's November 1990 freezing death was shown on Wednesday a photo of the lacerations and another in which handcuffs were superimposed over the lacerations.

In an unusual move, Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, requested that commissioner Justice David Wright not ban publication of the photographs because she wants full disclosure of the inquiry to the public.

"It is Stella's wish these images become part of the public domain. It is not a decision she takes lightly," said her lawyer, Donald Worme.

"As difficult as it is, (the family) will not prevent the publication of those terrible images," Worme said.

Bignell stayed away from the inquiry for the first time Wednesday.

A previous witness, Jason Roy, has told the inquiry he last saw Stonechild, then 17, in the back of a police car, with blood on his face, in handcuffs and screaming, "They're gonna kill me."

Stonechild's frozen body was discovered five days later, on Nov. 29. 1990 in a remote field on the outskirts of the city.

Forensic pathologist, Dr. Graeme Dowling is Alberta's chief medical examiner, who was asked by the RCMP in 2000 to review photos and coroner's notes from the 1990 autopsy. Later in 2000, Dowling was also asked to preside over the exhumation and re-examination of Stonechild's body.

By then, the skin had dried to the point Dowling could no longer detect any of the marks visible in the 1990 photos. X-rays of the body did not reveal any bony injuries that would have been new at the time of death.

On Wednesday, Dowling looked at the 1990 autopsy photos and would say only that the lacerations are consistent with compression patterns that could have been made by a blunt object, including handcuffs.

He said it is important to consider the body, the scene where the body is found and the history of the individual in determining the cause of death. He said he wasn't told about the possibility of handcuffs being involved the first time he was shown the pictures.

Dowling also agreed, however, with police union lawyer Drew Plaxton, that the marks could have been made by Stonechild's face falling onto crusty snow or against the frozen stalks of grasses and tall weeds that are visible in photographs of the site where he was found.

Dowling said he didn't know what the snow conditions were at the time of death. Exposed grasses that would have been under the body could have been covered by snow at the time and exposed as the warmth from Stonechild's skin melted it, he said.

When asked whether a curved handcuff could have made so long a cut on a nose, Dowling said cartilage in the nose is flexible enough that it could have been compressed enough to leave the marks, which measure 2.5 cm and 2 cm in length.

Dowling described the lacerations in pathologist's terms as "minor abrasions" but added that the term must be understood in the context of the wide range of injuries a pathologist sees.

Such abrasions are common on people who die from cold exposure because they become disoriented and often fall more than once before their final collapse, he said.

The wound would not have bled much, certainly not enough to be life threatening, he said. A bit of "blood-stained fluid, not blood" is visible to the right of the nose in the photos.

< < < previous | next > > >