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Old 10-27-2004, 03:19 PM   #1
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Inquiry links Native teen's death to police officers

Indianz.Com. In Print.
URL: http://www.indianz.com/News/2004/005013.asp

Inquiry links Native teen's death to police officers
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

An inquiry into the death of a Native teen blasted police on Tuesday for a "superficial and totally inadequate" investigation but officials said not enough evidence existed to bring charges against officers suspected of involvement.

In an explosive and lengthy report with graphic photos, Justice David Wright of Saskatchewan excoriated the Saskatoon police for "inexcusable" actions in the case of Neil Stonechild, a 17-year-old Native boy who was found frozen to death on the outskirts of town in 1990. He said police conducted a shoddy investigation that failed to explain why Stonechild died in such an odd location on a cold night.

Wright said police superiors dismissed "important information" about Stonechild's whereabouts on November 25, 1990, the last night he was seen alive. Evidence showed that two police officers were looking for Stonechild, who was the subject of public disturbance complaints, and there is "no question" they took him into custody, the report said.

Stonechild "died of cold exposure" in the early morning hours of November 25, the inquiry noted, and his body was found four days later. But evidence showed that bruises on his body were "likely" caused by police handcuffs, Wright said. A witness, another Native teen who was a friend of Stonechild, had come forward and suggested officers were involved.

Despite this information, police officials ignored questions about Stonechild's death that were raised by his family, the Native community in Saskatchewan and the media. Wright singled out Sgt. Keith Jarvis, the officer in charge of the initial investigation, for not even looking at the autopsy photos showing Stonechild's bruises or following up on leads that could have explained what happened that night.

"As I have already observed, the deficiencies in the investigation go beyond incompetence or neglect," Wright wrote. "They were inexcusable."

Even after the deaths of four other Native men, the police failed to take allegations of police harassment and brutality seriously, the inquiry noted. Only until another Native man came forward and said he was dropped off by police outside of town did another investigation, this time by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, take place. Yet Saskatoon police remained recalcitrant, Wright said.

"The self-protective and defensive attitudes exhibited by the senior levels of the police service continued, notwithstanding the establishment of an RCMP Task Force to investigate the suspicious deaths of a number of Aboriginal persons and the abduction of an Aboriginal man," he wrote in the report. "These same attitudes were manifested by certain members of the Saskatoon Police Service during the Inquiry."

Saskatoon's police chief responded to the report by apologizing to Stella Bignell, Stonechild's mother. "I am publicly apologizing to Mrs. Stella Bignell and her family for 14 years of frustration and denial," Chief Russell Sabo said.

At a press conference to release the report, Frank Quennell, Saskatchewan's justice minister, said it was unacceptable that the government failed to investigate fully Stonechild's death. But he said prosecutors found "insufficient evidence" to lay charges against Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, the two officers who took the boy into custody the night he went missing.

"They took my son away from me," Bignell said at a news conference. "They didn't investigate even though I asked them to."

Sabo said he suspended Hartwig and Senger pending another review. "Are we held accountable? Yes we are," he promised. A deputy police chief was suspended in March after admitting he misled the media about police involvement in the death.

Wright's inquiry heard from 43 witnesses over 64 days. Hearings were held in Saskatoon, which has a large Native population but which has been beset by strained race relations in recent years. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, an inter-tribal organization that had standing in the case, received racist and threatening phone calls after setting up a telephone line to take information about alleged police brutality.

The two Saskatoon police officers who admitted abandoning a Native in the freezing cold lost their jobs served eight months in jail for unlawful imprisonment.

Get the Report:
Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild (October 2004)

Relevant Links:
Stonechild Inquiry - http://www.stonechildinquiry.ca
Starlight Tours, from the CBC - http://cbc.ca/national/magazine/starlight/index.html

Related Stories:
Police deputy faces charges for lying about teen's death (09/02)
Native Mother rejects police apology for dead son (05/21)
Official inquiry into Native teen's death wraps up (5/20)
Report into Native teen's death expected this summer (03/22)
B.C. inquiry rejected into death of Native man (3/19)
Police chief suspended for inquiry in teen's death (3/18)
Police officer still on stand in Native teen's death (3/17)
Officer can't recall night Native teen went missing (3/16)
Police team at issue in inquiry of Native teen's death (3/11)
Police set up team to dispute Native teen's death (3/10)
Inquiry into Native teen's death longer than expected (3/9)
Police faulted for investigation into teen's death (01/12)
Investigation into teen's death called cover-up (1/9)
Inquiry into death of Native teen resumes testimony (1/7)
Friend denies involvement in Native teen's death (11/26)
Testimony resumes into death of Native teen (11/25)
Native man survives to tell of police brutality (11/24)
Officer's credibility tested over Native teen's death (10/27)
Inquiry into Native teen's death hits snag (10/24)
Inquiry into Native teen's death extends testimony (10/21)
Inquiry into Native teen's death wrapping up (10/17)
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Inquiry into teen's death no closer to explanation (10/15)
Inquiry into teen's death elicits confession (10/15)
Witness denied standing for inquiry into teen's death (10/09)
Inquiry into Native teen's death resumes in Sask. (10/7)
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Ex-officer admits to limited probe of teen's death (09/25)
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Priest says inquiry witness fear justified (09/19)
Inquiry into Native teen's death shown photos (9/18)
Police lawyers try to discredit inquiry witness (9/15)
Witness in inquiry of Native teen's death scrutinized (9/12)
Witness says he went to police about teen's death (9/11)
Witness says Native teen last seen with police (9/10)
Inquiry into death of Native teen opens in Sask. (9/9)
Sask. panel holding hearings on death of Native teen (9/8)
Police chief admits Natives were abandoned (06/10)
Native family wants inquiry into son's death (6/9)
Native author documents police brutality case (05/06)
White cops report to jail for brutality incident (03/14)
Death of Aboriginal man to be investigated (02/20)
Can. court hears appeal of convicted cops (01/21)
Former cops appeal conviction (12/10)
White cops denied Native justice (12/4)
White cops want Native justice (10/31)
Officers found guilty for abandoning Native man(9/21)
Officers admit abandoning Native man (9/19)
All-white jury selected for Sask. officers (9/11)
Hearing held for accused cop (9/12)
Racial tensions rise over police harassment (5/04)
First Nations say police charges don't go far enough (4/13)
Officers charged in Saskatoon (4/12)

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Old 10-27-2004, 03:51 PM   #2
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Don't you think its disgusting that these police officers get a tiny slap on the wrist for the wrong doings they have done? This isn't the only time it has happened :reallymad
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Old 11-01-2004, 11:19 PM   #3
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Yeah, it's awful. I think that since police are supposedly sworn to uphold the law, they should get WORSE than anyone else when they break it. It's totally unfair that this kind of thing can just keep happening.
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Old 11-03-2004, 05:54 PM   #4
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That is why it's important that we go to school and try to do more for our people. Things like this have always been around. It's just so sad that they just turn away from the problems. That is why we need to be united as natives so our voices could be herd.
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