A public inquest began today in Kelowna courts to look into the death of a man that occurred while in police custody.
On April 1, 2017, Edward James Waddell was found dead while in custody in a Kelowna jail cell. He had been involved in a car crash the day prior and was taken into police custody after receiving a medical examination at the Kelowna hospital.
A jury of seven people has been asked to determine five things; the identity of the deceased, the location, the time, the means and the classification of the death.
An inquiry is not a trial and the jurors do not resolve disputes, or make decisions about fault or blame. The jury will not make any finding of legal responsibility or make any conclusion of law.
Inquests are mandatory for any deaths that occur while a person is detained by or in custody to ensure that no death is overlooked or concealed.
The first witness called to the stand was a friend of Waddell’s mother. She read an impact statement written by his mother to the court. In the letter, Waddell’s mother said that he had struggled with opioid use disorder and had spent a significant amount of time in custody over the course of his life.
Next, Waddell’s life partner and mother of his child, Raija Arvi, took the stand. She said that the last time she spoke with Waddell was when he called her from the Kelowna hospital on March 31, 2017, where he said that he “wrote off the car,” after being involved in a collision. She said that Waddell told her that he was with the police at the hospital but she did not know any specifics of the incident as the phone call was cut short when Waddell’s phone died. Arvi told the court that Waddell had struggled with opioid use disorder, that he may have had a heart attack prior to the incident and said that he had a history of fainting, but she was not sure of the details of his medical history.
John Todd Kunz, a paramedic that assessed Waddell on the scene of the crash was the next witness to be called to the stand.
Kunz told the court that when he arrived on the scene of the single-vehicle crash he found Waddell sitting in the driver’s seat with his seatbelt on. Kunz said that after a brief assessment, Waddell was able to exit the vehicle on his own and climbed into the ambulance where Kunz took his vitals.
“He didn’t want anything to do with us,” said Kunz. He said that while Waddell was polite, he was resistant to receiving care and did not want to go to the hospital, despite strong encouragement from the paramedics.
Kunz said that he found no injuries or evidence of head or neck trauma on Waddell other than an abrasion on his nose. He said that Waddell assured the paramedics that he was not in any pain and had no injuries.
While conducting a physical exam in the ambulance Kunz noted that Waddell’s pupils were “pinpoints,” his skin was sweaty and his blood oxygen saturation was relatively low, at 91 percent. Kunz said that when Waddell was not being stimulated by conversation or a medical test, he would “nod off”, or fall asleep and start to snore, despite sitting up.
Kunz told the court that in his experience, the combination of having low oxygen saturation, being sweaty and having pinpoint pupils, is typically a sign of opioid use.
He then said that a firefighter found tinfoil in the vehicle, which is used to smoke drugs.
Waddell did not want to be transported to the hospital. After Waddell left the ambulance, Kunz told a police officer on the scene that he was concerned that Waddell was under the influence of drugs.
Const. Troy Bevan is a drug recognition expert who attended the scene of the crash in Kelowna and conducted a drug recognition examination.
Bevan also said that Waddell was “on the nod” and likely under the influence of opioids.
He told the court that Waddell was arrested by him for impaired operation of a motor vehicle and was then taken into custody. At the police station, Bevan conducted a drug recognition exam and which includes a urinalysis drug screening.
Bevan told the court that Waddell then began complaining of chest and neck pain and was subsequently brought to the hospital by police.
Waddell was accompanied to the hospital by officers and remained in police custody, despite giving blood and urine samples, because he was a required to serve time in jail each weekend for an unrelated criminal conviction.
He was strip searched when taken to jail, though he was not cavity searched.
Dr. Meredith Davidson was called to testify in court, as she assessed Waddell at the hospital.
She said that she did not note anything out of the ordinary on the tests that she ordered, including an X-ray, blood oxygen and ultrasound. She did note that he seemed sleepy. Davidson said that she was aware that there were concerns that Waddell was under the influence of drugs, but said that his pupils were normal size and that if he had taken drugs, they had begun to leave his system as he was alert and oriented with normal vitals. Waddell was given two ibuprofen and no other drugs at the hospital.
The trial is expected to continue in Kelowna until Monday, June 19.
Then, the jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.