Texts never showed teen dealing drugs at school, lawyer tells inquest

A string of texts about trading and buying street drugs that referred to “Dillys, “eight-balls” and “Mollys” resulted in Elliot Eurchuk being suspended from Oak Bay High School in September 2017 and transferred to Mount Douglas Secondary, a coroner’s inquest was told Monday.

At the close of the day’s testimony, however, Michael Scherr, lawyer for the Oak Bay teen’s parents, said the summer-holiday and weekend texts did not show Elliot distributing drugs at school — one of the criteria that could trigger a transfer to another school.

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“Throughout this process, Elliot was not caught bringing illegal substances to school,” Scherr said.

When Elliot spoke up and said he wasn’t dealing drugs, that fell on deaf ears and he was referred to a principal’s review committee, Scherr said. The committee then decided to transfer Elliot to another school.

“He never met the requirements for your policy for a referral to the principal’s review committee in the first place, did he?” Scherr said.

“Well, not to the language that you see, no,” said Harold Caldwell, director of learning for the Greater Victoria School District.

Elliot's denials were ignored and there was a predetermined plan to send him to a principals review committee, Scherr said.

Caldwell testified that it was not predetermined that Elliot wouldn’t return to Oak Bay High. Scherr did not accept that.

“In fact, Elliot was diagnosed with a learning disorder, and he was confronting multiple surgeries and physical injuries,” Scherr said. “He was going through the situation of managing a mother who had a cancer diagnosis and treatments. He was recognized as not having been able to engage with his counsellor at his school.

“Would it be fair to say Elliot fell through the cracks?” Scherr asked.

Caldwell rejected that suggestion.

When the decision to transfer Elliot to Mount Douglas was made in late September 2017, the abrupt uprooting left Elliot without his friends and support network, sending him into a deeper spiral, his parents have testified.

He died seven months later. Elliot was found unresponsive early on April 20, 2018, in his bedroom from a high concentration of fentanyl mixed with heroin and methamphetamine. Cocaine was also in his system.

The coroner’s inquest into his death, in its sixth day on Monday, is scheduled to continue until Wednesday.

Elliot’s mother, Rachel Staples, alerted Oak Bay High School in November 2016 when she found a baggie of drugs — “a pharmacy” as school officials quoted her as saying — in her son’s closet.

A couple of weeks into the school year in September 2017, an official at another school tipped off Oak Bay High officials about a text exchange involving Elliot, suggesting Elliot might be a go-to person for drugs.

Called into the school with Elliot, father Brock Eurchuk gave school officials Elliot’s iPhone. “I think Brock just desperately wanted to believe his son,” testified Oak Bay High vice-principal Tammy Sherstobitoff.

Sherstobitoff opened the phone and read “several email exchanges between Elliot and students in the school and students at other schools perhaps … about different pharmaceuticals and street drugs, different amounts and a few contact people and phone numbers.”

One text from Elliot read: “I’m getting Dilly 8s for me and two students for $20 each just today do you want to pitch and join us?”

In another text: “Elliot could I trade you some DMT for your Dill?

Sherstobitoff said Elliot was given a five-day suspension.

A principal’s review committee decided to transfer him to Mount Douglas Secondary. School officials testified that they felt that would allow Elliot to mix with another peer group and shift his direction. Students are transferred “to help them go in a better direction,” said Oak Bay principal Randi Falls.

School district counsellor Jennifer Chambers testified that underlying substance use is often a mental-health concern.

In her experience, she said, 40 to 50 per cent of students are using alcohol and marijuana. Chambers said students often don’t see this as drug use, but something to help them sleep or stay calm.

Chambers identified anxiety, attention deficit disorder and depression as the biggest mental-health challenges students are dealing with. In her experience, only a small number are using street drugs, she said.

Former Mount Douglas Secondary principal Shawn Boulding testified about checking in with Elliot at least monthly once he arrived at his new school. Boulding said he was frustrated that he was not told until after Elliot’s death about the teen’s overdose while in hospital for an infection in February, or subsequent psychiatric stay: “If we don’t know they are struggling, then what can we do?”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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