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New probe of native deaths

Private eyes to investigate Saskatoon police

SASKATOON -- A pair of private eyes hired by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations will have to wait for RCMP files regarding the deaths of five native men.

"We don't disclose the results of our investigations," said RCMP Sgt. Rick Wychreschuk. "Disclosure will come through the court process, after that everyone has access to the information."

A Saskatchewan RCMP task force of 15 to 20 investigators has been in Saskatoon investigating the deaths along with allegations police routinely dumped native men outside of town in sub-zero temperatures.

The practice came to light after the RCMP completed a probe into allegations by Darrell Night that two Saskatoon police officers abandoned him on the outskirts of the city on Jan. 28.

Night, 33, complained two officers drove him to the same area where two dead men were later found.

The partially clothed frozen body of Rodney Naistus, 25, of Onion Lake, Sask., was discovered Jan. 29. On Feb. 3, the frozen body of Lawrence Wegner, a 30-year-old Saskatchewan Indian Federated College student, was discovered in the same area.

The two officers involved in Night's allegations, constables Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, were charged last week with assault and unlawful confinement.

They are to appear in court May 3 and have yet to make a plea.

They were originally suspended by the police service for 30 days without pay after Night complained he was dumped.

The Saskatoon Police Commission imposed an extra 60-day suspension without pay, a penalty the cops fought.

The commission announced Friday the two men will receive back pay from the time they were suspended last month until they were charged.

The commission must meet again to decide if they will continue being paid.

Soon after the RCMP took over the investigation, they set up a 1-800 number for others who believed they had been victimized.

"In all, we received more than 180 calls, 25 of those were complaints against the RCMP and three complaints dealt with abandonment," Wychreschuk said, adding one complaint went back 20 years.

Meanwhile, the private investigators -- one an ex-RCMP officer -- hired by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations began their investigation last week by examining the claims of more than 200 aboriginal people from across the province who told the organization they had been mistreated by police.

MYSTERIOUS DEATH

Darcy McKenzie

"These are people who have reported it to us and is separate from what's been reported to Saskatoon police or the RCMP," said Darcy McKenzie (right) of the FSIN.

The lawyer representing Night said he hopes that investigation will focus on the mysterious death of another young native.

Neil Stonechild, 17, died in November 1990.

"His death was even more suspicious, if you can imagine that," said Night's lawyer Donald Worme.

"He was found frozen to death at the north end of the city with no jacket and only one shoe, and the last person to see him alive had him in police custody."

Stonechild was apparently on the lam when he died, Worme said.

Lawyer Don Worme

"He escaped from a group home and he's the one the police had suggested by way of explanation in their apparent investigation that he was going to the correctional centre to turn himself in," Donald Worme (right) said.

The file has since disappeared, Worme said.

"It was destroyed in 1999 by the city police" against Saskatoon Police Service regulations, he said.

Since the highly publicized story of Night's alleged ordeal, others have sought Worme out.

"Scores of people have come forward to me with similar complaints and have retained me as their counsel," the lawyer said.


Destruction of police file outrages Stonechild lawyer

Police viewed case as closed, file purged from system: official

Saskatoon police have destroyed most of the information in the file of a Native teenager who froze to death in the north side of the city in 1990, leaving the RCMP with only a fraction of the original information to investigate the incident.

"The are some questions about the destruction (of the files)," Don Worme, a lawyer involved in the case said.

"Given the seriousness of the issues at hand, it would have been prudent to maintain the files."

Neil Stonechild was found dead in November 1990. A friend says Stonechild, drunk and causing a disturbance, was driven away by Saskatoon police the night he disappeared.

Neil Stonechild

Two Saskatoon police officers have been charged with unlawful confinement and assault in connection with the alleged dumping of Darrell Night, another Native man, outside the city near the Queen Elizabeth II power plant.

The RCMP investigation which led to those charges is also looking into the Stonechild case and the cases of two Native men who froze to death this winter near the power plant.

Stella Bignell, Stonechild's mother, spoke out in 1990 and again this year about suspicions she had about her son's death. At the time she wondered how her son ended up in the northern industrial area of Saskatoon wearing only one shoe on a -28 celcius night.

Saskatoon Police Service Staff Sgt. Glenn Thomson said the Stonechild death was thoroughly investigated, deemed accidental and the file was closed.

Thomson said after seven years, files on closed cases such as Stonechild's can be discarded. His file was likely part of a regular purge of closed files, Thomson said.

"We can't physically keep all of that stuff," Thomson said.

But Worme said Saskatoon police should not have destroyed the file.

There were many unanswered questions about Stonechild's death, and unsolved or open cases have to be kept for at least 10 years, according to provincial laws.

Worme noted the file was destroyed after only nine years had passed.

When Worme asked for the file, the response from police "was neither timely nor satisfactory." Police simply confirmed they had destroyed Stonechild's file in December, but they would not give reasons why, he said.

Thomson said the other alleged incidents of dumping didn't occur until January and February, well after the Stonechild file had already been destroyed.

RCMP Sgt. Rick Wychreschuk said even though the file was destroyed, Saskatoon Police Service provided an electronic record with a list of the names of people involved in the investigation.

"It doesn't have the actual statements. We just have to go back and interview (those involved)," Wychreschuk said.

"Certainly it would have been easier to look at the first statement, but we don't have the advantage of that. We believe, though, that we can still go back and investigate the thing very well."

Wychreschuk said he isn't sure when any of the pending investigations will be completed.