A southern Ontario municipal police service continues to employ an officer months after he was convicted of criminal negligence in the in-custody death of an Oneida woman.
An Ontario Superior Court judge found London Police Service Const. Chris Doering guilty in November 2019 of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to Debralee Chrisjohn, 39, of Oneida of the Thames First Nation.
Chrisjohn, a mother and grandmother, died on Sept. 7, 2016 in hospital following her arrest by Doering.
Doering drove her to a rural intersection to transfer her into OPP custody and during the drive her medical condition deteriorated, which he attributed to drug use. But he told OPP that her condition had been stable and that she had received a medical assessment by paramedics.
Despite the conviction, Doering continues to be employed by the police force in an administrative role as he awaits sentencing, according to the lawyer representing Chrisjohn's family.
Chrisjohn's family is demanding the London police fire Doering.
In a statement, the family questioned how the London police chief could issue a statement in support of recent anti-racism protests and yet continue to employ an officer whose actions were found to be influenced by "stereotypes and generalized assumptions" by a judge.
"It is challenging for the family of Debralee to see police services such as the London police announcing their support for racialized and Indigenous communities, when the reality is that the London police continue to employ officers such as Nicholas Doering," said the family's statement.
Sentencing expected later this summer
The London police said in an emailed statement it could not comment on the matter because Doering is still awaiting sentencing. The statement said that at the conclusion of the criminal process, Doering will be investigated under the Police Services Act for the "alleged misconduct."
"In accordance with the Police Services Act, he remains a member of the London Police Service," said the statement.
Doering's sentencing has been delayed as a result of COVID-19 court restrictions. Crown prosecutor Jason Nicol said in an emailed statement that the issue will be spoken to on July 6 and sentencing could occur later in the summer.
Caitlyn Kasper, a lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto who is representing the family, said London police Chief Steve Williams has the power under the Police Services Act to suspend Doering with pay. She said it's something the police chief should have done in July 2017 when Doering was first charged by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.
"I feel like the London police have made it clear they are standing behind him," said Kasper.
"The family, all the way along, have made it very clear that they did not believe [Doering] should continue to be actively employed."
Kasper pointed to the judge's ruling that found Doering was deliberately deceitful while Chrisjohn was in his custody.
Doering arrested Chrisjohn on Sept. 7, 2016, after responding to a report of a woman running in the middle of the street and trying to get into cars. Doering believed Chrisjohn was high on methamphetamines and paramedics were called, court heard during the trial.
Doering chose not to allow Chrisjohn to undergo a medical assessment after paramedics told him he may have to wait several hours at the emergency department. Instead, he drove her to a rural intersection outside of the city to transfer her to the OPP, who had a warrant for her arrest on breaching terms of her release.
'Stereotypes and generalized assumptions'
Court heard that Chrisjohn's condition deteriorated during the ride, slumping in her seat three times and saying something to Doering who couldn't hear her because he had a window open. He pulled over once, to check on her handcuffs.
By the time he arrived at the meeting point with the OPP, Chrisjohn was lying in the backseat and unresponsive to questions. Doering then lied to the OPP officers, telling them that paramedics had already checked Chrisjohn and that her condition had remained the same while in his custody.
In her ruling, the judge said these false statements "created the risk that the OPP would not appreciate the gravity of Ms. Chrisjohn's condition and that medical assistance would be further delayed."
"The evidence in this case suggests that stereotypes and generalized assumptions played a role in the events leading to Ms. Chrisjohn's death," the judge said.
While in OPP custody, Chrisjohn's condition grew worse and officers called paramedics who took her to hospital where she died. She is survived by 11 children and two grandchildren.
with files from Kate Dubinski
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