Woman says officer left her choking in wellness check; IIO investigating

A Nanaimo woman says RCMP officers broke her nose, failed to stop her from falling down the stairs and put a transport hood over her face that left her choking on her own blood during a wellness check last month.

“These wellness checks are going crazy. They can’t go on like this,” said Shanna Blanchard, a personal trainer, former Comox firefighter and mother of four who is calling for changes to the way police respond to mental-health calls.

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The incident is being investigated by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., a civilian oversight agency that investigates all officer-related incidents that result in serious harm or death, whether or not there is any allegation of wrongdoing.

In an interview Thursday, Blanchard said she had been suffering from depression amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after she had to stop working as a trainer, when she got into an argument with her older son on the afternoon of May 26.

“I felt so desolate, so I curled up on my bathroom floor and I cried and I cried,” said Blanchard.

Her older two children, ages 21 and 19, didn’t know what to do. They tried to convince her to come out. They could hear her crying, but she wasn’t answering them.

“So my son called 911 hoping to get some help for his mom. And they asked him if there were any weapons in the bathroom. He told them just the bathroom scissors,” said Blanchard.

“I didn’t know this and I heard sirens and I came flying out of my bathroom and said: ‘Please tell me you didn’t call the police.’ They know I am terrified of the police. As a firefighter, I know we’re supposed to work alongside each other, but I’ve seen so much bad stuff.”

When police arrived, Blanchard hid in her bedroom. She said she told the officers clearly that the call was a mistake and she had no intention of killing herself.

The officers kept trying to get her to come out of the bedroom, she said, but Blanchard told them she preferred to wait for paramedics.

Eventually, she came out and realized there were five officers in her house, all reaching for their holsters, she said. “I put my hands up in the air and told them I was unarmed.”

Blanchard walked into the living room and sat on her couch, facing the officers. She showed them she hadn’t hurt herself or taken any pills.

At that point, one of the officers said she would be apprehended under the Mental Health Act, she said.

“I stood up really quickly and said: ‘No, you’re not’ and the next thing I woke up in a puddle of blood. The officer on the left punched me so hard, he broke my nose and blood spun all the way around, almost a complete 360. I fell face down, mouth open and broke my two front teeth.”

Next, the officers handcuffed her and pulled a spit bag, or a transport hood, over her broken nose and teeth. But the hood wasn’t put on properly and covered her face, said Blanchard.

“I then choked on my own blood and blacked out. I begged them to take it off. I told them I couldn’t breathe.”

The officers got her to her feet and she blacked out again at the top of the stairs. She fell down the stairs and said she came to when her face hit a post.

Blanchard was walked out of the house screaming. The officers put her in the back of a police car. Blanchard said she repeatedly begged them to take the hood off because she couldn’t breathe and was hyperventilating.

Paramedics arrived 39 minutes after the 911 call.

She was uncuffed and taken to hospital, where she was treated for a broken nose and bruised ribs and told to see an emergency dentist.

Blanchard was sent to a psychiatric ward for an assessment. She said she was cleared and home by 5:15 p.m.

She insists the police had no right to apprehend her.

The Independent Investigations Office is asking anyone who saw, heard or recorded the incident to call their witness line toll free at 1-855-446-8477.

Blanchard said she is happy about the IIO investigation. She has also launched a civil suit against the RCMP because she will have to have her teeth replaced and her nose operated on by a plastic surgeon. She is also trying to secure counselling for her children.

“My whole reason to come forward like this is I would like to see a mental-health professional do wellness checks, perhaps assisted by the RCMP, depending on the situation. These checks should not be done by RCMP. They’re not trained for it,” said Blanchard.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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