Jail guards should work shorter shifts and police should be better trained to recognize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, according to some of the recommendations produced by the jury at a coroner’s inquest in Penticton.
Fourteen recommendations drafted by the five-member panel are aimed at stopping someone else from dying in the same manner as Steven Joseph Scott, who choked on his own vomit while in custody at the Penticton RCMP detachment on Aug. 10, 2012. His death was ruled an accident with alcohol withdrawal as a contributing factor.
Scott’s sister told reporters after the hearing Wednesday she’s not sure justice has been done yet.
“I think still that somebody should be held criminally responsible, but as for the actual inquest, I’m satisfied,” said Candace Sabo Derksen.
The inquest heard Scott, who was arrested while severely intoxicated and causing a disturbance outside a Penticton home, lay dead in his cell for eight hours, despite regular checks that civilian jail guards and the RCMP watch commander on duty at the time said they had completed.
Outside investigators from the Saanich Police Department later recommended charges of failing to provide the necessities of life against one guard and one RCMP officer. However, the Crown didn’t proceed because the evidence didn’t support “a substantial likelihood of conviction,” the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch said in 2013.
Inquest jurors made six recommendations to all B.C. police agencies, including shortening jail guards’ 12-hour shifts and ensuring those working with prisoners can tell when someone is withdrawing from alcohol and requires medical treatment.
Another seven recommendations were directed at the City of Penticton and Penticton RCMP, such as upgrading video cameras in jail cells and replacing guards with fully-trained correctional officers.
Penticton RCMP Supt. Kevin Hewco said some changes, like better lighting in the cell block and changing policy to require more frequent physical checks of prisoners, were made shortly after the incident.
Other recommendations, he said, will need to be costed and presented to city council and RCMP bosses to decide upon as soon as possible.
“We take these situations seriously. We feel for the family,” said Hewco, who assumed command in Penticton a year after Scott’s death.
“A tragedy like that is a loss to the entire community, including our people here.”
One final recommendation was aimed at the B.C. Ministry of Health, which was urged to consider establishing an alcohol detox facility in the South Okanagan.
Penticton Mayor Garry Litke was pleased with that suggestion.
“This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for a very long time, where issues of mental illness or alcohol addiction continue to fall to the jurisdiction of local governments and RCMP,” he said.
Tests conducted on samples of bodily fluids taken from Scott during an autopsy determined he still had a blood-alcohol level of approximately 40 milligrams per 100 millilitres — about half the legal limit for drivers — when he died 18 hours after being taken into custody.
The inquest also heard that in March 2012, Scott was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Penticton Regional Hospital after being taken to the facility with a blood-alcohol level eight times the legal limit.