Stereotypes seen in man’s treatment before he died in police custody: expert

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A doctor who specializes in Indigenous health care told a coroner’s inquest on Wednesday that she heard stereotypes play out from the first 9-1-1 call that led to a man’s arrest for public intoxication before dying of medical conditions during Thunder Bay police custody. later.

Dr. Suzanne Shoush testified as an expert witness at the joint inquest into the deaths of Donald Mamakwa, 44, in 2014 and his uncle Roland McKay, 50, in 2017. Both Indigenous men died of illnesses doctors in Thunder Bay police cells. The ward headquarters after their arrest on suspicion of public intoxication, and neither were assessed by a doctor or nurse before their deaths.

Shoush testified to how prejudice and prejudice based on racist assumptions can take over when people interact with certain groups, such as those who are Indigenous, appear intoxicated, or are homeless.

She said she observed this pattern in 9-1-1 tapes the inquest heard a day earlier, when an unnamed man called to report he had seen Mamakwa ‘pass out’ on the steps of a church in Thunder Bay.

“It was a clever narrative from the start,” Shoush said of Thunder Bay. “The stereotypes came into play.”

Shoush noted that the man reacted with apparent “disgust” when asked if he had approached Mamakwa. A conversation between responders online who later commented on the origin of the report suggested they had a stigma about the area and a “contempt” for a nearby alcohol treatment program, Shoush added.

Shoush stressed the importance of people in high-stress, public-facing jobs, such as police and health care, undergoing cultural safety training and learning “circuit breaker” techniques to interrupt biases based on racist and other stereotypes that may affect their decision-making. This can help prevent “catastrophic” results, she testified.

“As we have seen in this investigation, the impacts can actually be very deadly. They can actually lead to death,” she testified.

Earlier today, the inquest viewed cell block footage depicting Mamakwa in the hours before his death, which showed him reaching for help, lying down and struggling to move.

The inquest heard on Tuesday that he died of complications from diabetes and sepsis – a cause of death the inquest’s lawyer said was likely preventable had he been taken to hospital , where he would have had a 97% chance of survival.

The footage, which had no sound, showed Mamakwa at one point stretching his arm between the cell bars, holding a juice box. The inquest lawyer said the timing of the clip matched testimony from another man who was detained at the time and told investigators that Mamakwa asked him for a drink but he was not able to help him.

A previous clip showed a constable dropping off the juice box while Mamakwa lay on the bed. He used his left foot to slowly slide the juice box towards him and appeared to drink it while lying down.

Many clips showed Mamakwa lying down. In others, he was seated and rocking back and forth, appearing to be breathing heavily, clutching his chest and struggling to stand shortly before dying early on August 3, 2014.

Shoush testified to the structural racism in Canada’s health care system stemming from the country’s colonial history and the racist stereotypes that Indigenous peoples face, such as those related to alcohol consumption, despite concrete evidence that contradicts them.

His testimony also touched on how health issues like sepsis and blood sugar can mimic intoxication and cause a person to have an altered level of consciousness. She said people in this condition should be checked regularly and cleared by a medical professional.

The families of the two men testified on Tuesday to the pain of their losses knowing that they had not been taken to hospital for treatment.

Shoush said he noted Mamakwa’s family shared that he, like many other Indigenous adults in Thunder Bay, had no primary caregiver and went to the emergency room when he needed care for his diabetes. . It would have left him with no control over his chronic condition and no reliable source of care or trusted provider to help keep the disease from getting worse, she said.

The “context and nuance” of the events around his detention – that Mamakwa was visibly an indigenous person – must be taken into account when considering the tragic outcome and seeking solutions, she added.

“I find it hard to believe that the only problem was the inability to recognize a basic medical crisis,” she said.

“It’s that we don’t address biases that are unconscious and subconscious.”

The inquest also heard an audio recording Wednesday of an interview with a paramedic who said he did not physically assess Mamakwa or take him to hospital despite the man asking to go.

In the conversation, which was recorded the year after Mamakwa died, Rob Corbeil said Mamakwa was already in custody by the time the ambulance arrived in response to a “man down” call. Corbeil said Mamakwa twice said he wanted to go to the hospital, telling Corbeil “I can’t breathe”.

The paramedic said Mamakwa looked “normal” to him and did not appear to be having difficulty breathing. Corbeil said he told officers: “‘He doesn’t look out of breath to me’ or anything like that.”

Corbeil said he did not physically assess Mamakwa and left soon after.

“In retrospect, I probably should have done a set of vital signs. I couldn’t find a reason for it. From what I could see, there was nothing wrong with him,” he said. -he declares.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 12, 2022.

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