Nanaimo RCMP officers cleared in death of man arrested for drunk driving

Two Nanaimo RCMP officers have been cleared of wrongdoing in the case of a man who died after being arrested for drunk driving.

The death was investigated by B.C.’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office, which probes police-involved deaths or serious injuries.

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The man died on Oct. 28, 2018, hours after he was in a drunk-driving crash, according to an IIO report released Tuesday.

Nanaimo RCMP were called about a suspected impaired driver around 1:30 that morning.

Two witnesses reported that they were awakened by a grinding noise and went outside to see the car driving back and forth in a laneway. The car was missing a tire and the bare rim was scraping against the pavement.

Two officers responded and found a very intoxicated man sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that had crashed into a utility pole.

One of the officers held the driver’s arm as he walked him to the police vehicle. The man was so intoxicated, officers were unable to obtain breath samples on a breathalyzer.

The man failed 15 attempts to blow into the device and told the officers he had a bad cold and was having breathing problems. Despite his slurred speech, he was able to converse with the officers and the officers observed that he was breathing fine.

The officers told the driver he could be charged for failing to provide a breath sample. The man said he was “trying his best” and “it’s how I’ve been breathing in the last three or four days.”

The man was given the chance to blow a few more times and then told he was under arrest.

The male officer asked the man if he wanted to go to the hospital or his home. The officer said if there was no one at home to take care of him, he’d have to spend the night in the drunk tank because he was “stupefied drunk.”

Then the female officer noticed the man was showing signs of medical distress and suggested calling an ambulance. While the ambulance was en route, the male officer told dispatchers that the driver had gone into cardiac arrest. The man was laid on the ground and the male officer did chest compressions until paramedics took over.

The man was taken to hospital and died that morning.

An autopsy showed the man died of bilateral severe pneumonia, the report said.

Investigators with the Independent Investigations Office interviewed five civilian witnesses, reviewed video footage taken by a witness and reviewed evidence from first responders, police dispatch records, 911 calls and police radio transmissions. Investigators also looked at police dash-camera footage, and medical and autopsy records.

The IIO’s chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald, wrote in the report that the man presented as someone who was unable or unwilling to provide a breath sample, either because he was too intoxicated or he was being obstructive. There was no sign he was about to go into catastrophic medical distress.

“There is no evidence that either officer did anything that caused AP’s death or failed to do anything that could reasonably be expected of them that might have prevented it,” MacDonald wrote.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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