A London police officer has been found guilty of criminal negligence in the death of Debra Chrisjohn, 39, a mother of 11 from the Oneida of the Thames.
Nicholas Doering was also found guilty of failing to provide the necessities of life in Chrisjohn’s death by Justice Ranee Pomerance.
“It has been difficult for us to hear about her final moments,” said Brittany Chrisjohn, sister of Debra in a release sent by the Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) that represented the family during the trial.
“It is hard for us to hear about how she was seen by the police – and about how she was so wrongly judged in her final moments. Debra was working hard to overcome her struggles and she loved her children so much. No matter what happened, they were everything to her.”
Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance offered some scathing critiques in her decision against Const. Nicholas Doering, an officer with the London, Ont., police service.
She ruled Doering was guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing the death of Debra Chrisjohn, who died hours after being taken into his custody in September 2016.
Pomerance said Doering failed to act upon obvious signs that Chrisjohn’s medical condition was deteriorating quickly while she was in his care and did not seek the medical help she couldn’t obtain for herself.
“Const. Doering demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for Ms. Chrisjohn’s life,” Pomerance wrote in her decision handing down the verdict. “His conduct … represented a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care. It was a contributing cause of Ms. Chrisjohn’s death.”
Doering stood trial in London, Ont., in front of Pomerance alone, starting on Oct. 21.
During the trial, the judge said numerous witnesses laid out details of Chrisjohn’s final hours before her death on Sept. 7, 2016.
Pomerance said Doering and another London police officer crossed paths with Chrisjohn after receiving numerous reports that an agitated woman was trying to enter cars and wandering into traffic.
When Doering arrived, a witness was holding Chrisjohn down on the ground in a bid to keep her out of harm’s way, court heard.
While arresting Chrisjohn and communicating with fellow officers, Doering realized that the 39-year-old was wanted on an outstanding warrant issued by the Ontario Provincial Police.
Pomerance said officers from both forces agreed to meet to transfer Chrisjohn into OPP custody.
Court heard Chrisjohn was alert and conscious when Doering put her in the back of his cruiser _ co-operating with police demands, talking and moving. Before Doering drove off with Chrisjohn, court heard a paramedic observed Chrisjohn through the cruiser window but said any checks of her vital signs would likely be skewed due to the fact that she was high on methamphetamine.
Over the next 45 minutes, court heard that Chrisjohn’s condition deteriorated significantly. She went from sitting upright and talking to lying on her side while moaning and shaking.
Doering testified that he could not remember if he spoke to Chrisjohn during the drive, though he noted he could not hear something she said due to noise from an open window.
In summarizing Doering’s testimony, Pomerance said the officer stopped the cruiser once, but only to ensure that Chrisjohn had not slipped out of her handcuffs.
Less than three hours after being taken into custody, Chrisjohn was taken to hospital where she died of cardiac arrest due to an overdose of methamphetamine.
Pomerance noted in her verdict Friday that Chrisjohn was of Indigenous heritage and the particular vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls to stereotyping, especially relating to alcohol and drug abuse.
“Now we can concentrate on who she was with family around her. About how beautiful she was and how much we loved her company, said Cindy Chrisjohn in release who is also sister to Debra.
“We can finally just focus on how much we miss her.”
The ALST said the family appreciates the support they received from the community.
The release states that the family believes that “the court has spoken. The police must learn from this mistake and recognize that every person deserves protection.
“Especially those who are vulnerable and suffering. And especially those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 12.
-with files from the Canadian Press