Investigation clears Winnipeg police in fatal arrest of First Nations man

Autopsy shows death caused by drug overdose 

(Sean Thompson died in Winnipeg following an arrest. APTN file)

A review of why a First Nation man died during an arrest in Winnipeg a little over a year ago has determined a drug overdose was to blame.

“In this case the medical evidence points without hesitation to the ingestion of drugs and alcohol,” said Zane Tessler, the civilian director of the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) of Manitoba.

“Nothing the police did or didn’t do affected what happened to him.”

Tessler was referring to his agency’s investigation into the death of Sean Thompson on June 26, 2019. The 30-year-old was arrested following an alleged residential break and enter.

In its report released last week, the IIU said Thompson went into “medical distress” and died later in hospital.

“The pathology and autopsy report listed the cause of death as mixed drug intoxication, caused by a combination of cocaine, methamphetamine and (alcohol),” the report said.

“The IIU investigation concluded that the WPS officers’ actions were restrained and justified, and in no way caused or contributed to the death of the affected male.”

Thompson was taken into custody at about 2:30 a.m. across the street from a house he had allegedly broken into, something his family has questioned.

“I don’t see my brother trying to break into a house,” Thompson’s sister Erica Thompson told APTN News at the time of his death.

“To me, if anything, maybe he was drinking and maybe he was lost.”

Erica couldn’t be reached to comment Wednesday on the IIU’s findings.

(A sign created in the wake of Sean Thompson’s death. Facebook photo)

But in an earlier interview, she wondered about the cuts and bruises on her brother’s body and what happened to about $10,000 in cash he was carrying.

Tessler said Thompson likely injured himself when a window was broken in a home he allegedly tried to enter. People in the basement of the house were hurt by flying glass and called police, he added in an interview.

About $700 in cash was found on Thompson, who was located after he got tangled up with a chair on an outside landing. He had some street drugs on him as well.

“We were advised that the Winnipeg Police Forensic Unit located about $705 on the body,” Tessler said. “Money was floating – $20 and $5 (bills) – fluttering around, the implication being that it came out of his pocket.”

The money, which could initially have been as much as $13,000, was part of a flood claim payment to members of Little Saskatchewan First Nation. The $705 has since been returned to the family in the form of a cheque, Tessler added.

Thompson disappeared for about two days leading up to his death and was out of touch with his family, the report said. He had “abnormally high levels of cocaine and methamphetamine in his system,” Tessler said the pathologist found.

“His behaviour was consistent with someone under the influence of a high quantity of drugs and alcohol.”

The next step is an inquest under the provincial Fatality Inquiries Act. An inquest, like the review by the IIU, is mandatory following an in-custody death.

“We feel for the family as best we can,” Tessler said. “(His) actions may seem bizarre but they are consistent with what the people heard (in the house when glass was breaking).

“Who knows what he was doing.”

A date for the inquest has not been set.

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.