Date set for pandemic-delayed inquest into 2016 in-custody death of Island teen

A coroner’s inquest into the death of Jocelyn Nynah Marsha George will take place June 21 at the Capital Theatre in Port Alberni, nearly five years to the day after she died.

The inquest was originally scheduled for July 6, 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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George was 18 when she died in hospital on June 24, 2016, after being transferred from police custody at the Port Alberni RCMP detachment. She was the mother of two young children.

Her family raised questions about the care she received while in custody. She had been held overnight in police cells before being found in the morning “in need of medical attention,” the B.C. Coroners Service said at the time.

George was taken to Port Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital by ambulance before going to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria by air ambulance.

Richard Lucas, her great uncle and then the chief of the Hesquiaht First Nation, said in 2016 the band and family wanted to know what happened “because certainly this wasn’t a natural death.”

A B.C. Independent Investigations Office report in 2018 said George was taken into custody in the morning of June 23 for being intoxicated in a public place, then was picked up again in the early evening.

The case was referred to the IIO, which reviews police-involved incidents involving death or serious injury.

The IIO report concluded that there was no evidence to police that George was in serious medical distress, and that death was caused by the impact of drugs on her heart. The report said that there was no action or inaction by officers that led to her death.

The report said that her cause of death was determined at the hospital to be from the toxic effects of methamphetamine and cocaine.

The report led to a 2018 statement from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council saying that there is an “urgent need” for the RCMP to re-evaluate its policies about the monitoring of people in custody who are found to be intoxicated.

“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. “The lack of a personal check on Jocelyn may not have been critical as outlined in the report, but may have been helpful or preventative.”

An inquest is required under the Coroners Act when a death occurs while someone is detained by or in the custody of a peace officer.

The presiding coroner in the George inquest will be Margaret Janzen. The jury can make recommendations directed at preventing a similar case from happening, but doesn’t determine any legal responsibility.

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