Manslaughter charges stayed against B.C. officers accused in Indigenous man’s death

By The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Family members of a British Columbia Indigenous man who died after being arrested nearly seven years ago were “absolutely shocked” to learn that the manslaughter charges against two of the Mounties involved have been stayed, Dale Culver’s cousin says. 

“It was so surreal. We could not believe it,” Debbie Pierre said in an interview Friday.

Culver, from the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations, was arrested in Prince George on July 18, 2017, after police were called about a man allegedly casing vehicles. The independent office that investigated the case later said the 35-year-old was pepper-sprayed during a struggle, had trouble breathing and died in custody.

Pierre said Friday that her family was “very happy” when the Independent Investigations Office said it would be laying charges in the case.

“Our hopes were very high that we would see justice (because) it’s very, very rare for Indigenous cases (to have) charges being approved in the judicial system,” she said.

But, she said that changed Thursday when prosecutors broke the news about the manslaughter charges.

“Yesterday, our hopes and dreams of justice were depleted very quickly when we learned that as of a pathologist report being pulled from the evidence that the Crown counsel made the very difficult decision to stay the proceedings.”

The BC Prosecution Services said in a statement Friday that “there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction” in the case, which saw constables Paul Ste-Marie and Jean Francois Monette charged after Culver’s death.

The service said a Crown prosecutor was unable to resolve questions about the evidence around cause of death after a second pathologist reviewed the case and found the man died of a heart attack after struggling with officers while high on methamphetamine.

The service said that finding conflicted with the pathologist who performed an autopsy on Culver and concluded that the man died due to several factors, including “blunt force head trauma.” 

The conflicting finding led prosecutors to conclude they could no longer prove their case against the Mounties beyond a reasonable doubt, it said.

The prosecution service’s outline of the evidence says Culver was riding his bike in downtown Prince George when officers tried to stop him, and a “wrestling match ensued” between Culver and an officer who was trying to arrest him. 

Three other officers, Sgt. Jon Eusebio Cruz and constables Arthur Dalman and Clarence MacDonald, are also accused of attempting to obstruct justice in the case.

Pierre said the family will be back in court next month for those charges.

“We’ve been reliving this on literally on a monthly basis for seven years,” she said. “(We) truly hope that justice will prevail.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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