Coroner’s inquest hears accounts of what happened to woman who died in police custody

A coroner’s inquest into the June 24, 2016 death of Jocelyn Nynah Marsha George began Monday in Port Alberni’s ­Capital Theatre after being delayed close to a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

George was 18 and the mother of two young children when she died after spending the night in Port Alberni RCMP cells.

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The B.C. Coroners Service said at the time that she was found in the morning “in need of medical attention.” She was transported first to Port ­Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital and then to Royal ­Jubilee Hospital.

A 2018 report by the B.C. Independent Investigations Office — which looks into police-involved incidents where there is death or serious injury — said George was taken into custody the morning of June 23 for being intoxicated in a public place, and then again that evening.

The IIO concluded that police had no prior evidence George was in serious medical distress, and that death was caused by the effect of drugs on her heart. The hospital pointed to ­methamphetamine and cocaine, the IIO said.

The report led to a statement from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calling for revamped RCMP policies for dealing with intoxicated people in custody.

“Despite the IIO concluding that there was no criminal wrongdoing, stricter protocols need to be implemented for the prevention of incidents such as this in the future,” the council said.

Inquests are mandatory under the Coroners Act when there is a death while someone is detained by or in the custody of a peace officer. Coroner’s juries can make recommendations but do not determine legal ­responsibility.

Margaret Janzen is the presiding coroner at the George inquest, which has witnesses scheduled through next Monday. Thirty-two witnesses are due to testify.

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