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Startling details at Freezing Death Inquest

Officer didn't know Dustyhorn was still Hallucinating

Saskatoon Police crest

SASKATOON, SK - A Saskatoon police officer would have driven Lloyd Joseph Dustyhorn to a hospital to get the help that might have saved his life, but he never crossed paths with a special constable who was raising concerns about his condition, a coroner's jury heard Wednesday.

This was just one of a series of revelations about the events leading to the freezing death of the 53-year-old Native man last winter.

The first in a series of startling facts made public for the first time during the inquest into Dustyhorn's death at Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench came in testimony from the officer who last saw Dustyhorn alive at about 5 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2000.

Const. Ed Singbeil said he was asked to drive Dustyhorn home in a van, although usually people are on their own when they are released from the drunk tank after sobering up.

He was told the man needed a ride because he had no winter jacket and the temperature was hovering below -30 C. But he was not informed that Dustyhorn was still hallucinating after 18 hours in the drunk tank, and no one advised him if the man even had a key to get into his home, Singbeil said.

He never got a chance to hear the concerns of special Const. Rene Reimer-Horner, who had asked the sergeant in charge that day to send Dustyhorn to a hospital.

He said rather than wait for Dustyhorn to come to the detention area to be picked up, another staff member brought Dustyhorn to the parking garage to meet him. That, too, was unusual, he said.

Over the years, he has come to trust Reimer-Horner's experience, and given a chance to hear her opinion he would have taken her advice and driven Dustyhorn to the hospital for assessment, he testified.

When he arrived at 334 Ave. S South, Dustyhorn's address, and asked if that was his house, Singbeil said the man mumbled and nodded. The officer did not stay to see if he got inside.

"The last I saw him was on the sidewalk approaching his house," he said. "I felt that he was quite capable of getting into his residence. I know in my own mind that if I had known the circumstances, my actions would have been considerably different."

Three hours later, Dustyhorn's frozen body was found outside another address about two blocks away, at 2014 20th St. West. He knew people in the building and often stayed there, the jury heard.

In a chilling turn of events, Singbeil told the jury he encountered a similar situation one month later on Feb. 18, when he was asked to take another man home from the police drunk tank. Recalling what had happened to Dustyhorn, Singbeil refused and the man was sent home in a taxi instead.

Disaster struck anyway.

The man was Darcy Dean Ironchild, and he died hours later of a drug overdose in his home.

An inquest last year into Ironchild's death heard that while he was stoned on heavy doses of prescription drugs for about 10 hours prior to death, none of the half-dozen police officers and others who dealt with him saw any reason to call an ambulance until it was too late.

Further testimony from those involved in Dustyhorn's autopsy revealed he did have a jacket -- but it was inside a green garbage bag he was carrying with him, and no one at the police station did an inventory of the contents while he was in custody.

Next came the revelation that someone may have let Dustyhorn inside for a while, at the building where he was found, and then kicked him out because he was suffering delirium tremens, severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal known as "DTs."

Sgt. John Middleton, who investigated the death for the city police major crimes unit, said some tenants at 2014 20th St. West told him Dustyhorn was in the building visiting a woman named Shelley Littlecrow that morning, and was beaten up and ejected by either her or her live-in boyfriend.

However, the tenants were intoxicated when he spoke to them, and are not considered reliable, he said. They may have been confused about the day, since Dustyhorn was definitely there on the previous day, Jan. 18, when someone -- possibly Littlecrow -- called an ambulance for him and told the operator he had DTs.

Dustyhorn refused treatment and seemed fine when the ambulance arrived, the jury heard Tuesday.

Littlecrow has died since the incident, and her boyfriend could not be located to testify.

The deaths of Dustyhorn and Ironchild became part of the special RCMP task force created last year after allegations surfaced about police officers dropping Native men on the city's outskirts. Following the RCMP investigation, justice officials determined there was no basis for criminal charges in either case.

The purpose of the inquest is not to find blame, but to come up with recommendations on what can be done to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Hugh Harradence, the coroner appointed to hear the case, also heard the Ironchild inquest last year. That jury strongly recommended a drop-in detox centre be set up in Saskatoon to solve the long-standing problem of having police attempt to care for people who are found on the street too intoxicated to care for themselves.

Harradence expressed frustration over the continuing lack of such a facility anywhere in Saskatchewan.

"This is the second time that you and I have sat here and talked about this, and there's still nothing," Harradence remarked to Saskatoon police Supt. Brian Dueck, who testified Wednesday about ongoing plans to expand Larson House to include such a facility.

"I am as frustrated as anyone at seeing this delayed," Dueck said.

The inquest is expected to conclude Thursday.