Jury makes five recommendations following coroner’s inquest into Smithers man’s 2015 death

The jury classified the death accidental with “external pressure to the head [and] neck” as the cause

Jacobus Jonker, a former beloved Smithers Rugby coach, died following an incident in the Smithers RCMP detachment in February 2015. (File photo)

A jury has made several recommendations to the RCMP “E” Division (British Columbia) following a coroner’s inquest into the death of Jacobus Jonker held this week at the BC Supreme Court in Smithers.

Police first received a call concerning Jonker on the night of Feb. 14, 2015 from his 17-year-old daughter, who said her father was intoxicated and holding a gun.

Officers were dispatched to Jonker’s house on Driftwood Cres. in Smithers, where they found an intoxicated Jonker who refused to comply with their verbal demands.

After several verbal attempts to resolve the situation, Jonker rushed at Const. Ashley Vanleeuwen, the first of the RCMP members on the scene, officers testified.

Vanleeuwen used pepper spray to subdue Jonker, at which point Const. Jennifer McCreesh put him in handcuffs and took him into Vanleeuwen’s cruiser.

Jonker was taken to the RCMP detachment where he arrived shortly after 11 p.m.

After being searched and having the pepper spray removed from his eyes in the cell area, the officers brought Jonker back to the bench where they initially searched him in the detachment.

At this point he began to make comments that Vanleeuwen testified increased his risk assessment of Jonker as a potentially-violent inmate, including that the whole situation would “never make it to court.”

While the officers were attempting to guide a belligerent Jonker back into the cell, he attempted to break away from the officers and a fight ensued between Jonker and the two RCMP officers.

A civilian prison guard was also present for the events.

In a video of the struggle presented at the inquest, Vanleeuwen can be seen using a control technique on Jonker’s head and neck area, which brought him to the ground.

The struggle continued on the detachment floor as Vanleeuwen and Cpl. Dean Klubi both attempted to restrain Jonker (who continued to thrash about after hitting the ground) with Vanleeuwen restraining his head area and Klubi restraining his lower body.

After a short period of time, Klubi tapped on Vanleeuwen (who was facing in the opposite direction) to let him know Jonker was no longer resisting and to remove the hold he had him in.

Vanleeuwen testified they then noticed Jonker was unconscious and not breathing normally. The officers began chest compressions to try to revive him.

They also attempted to revive Jonker using an automated external defibrillator (AED) which analyzed his vitals and determined no shock to his body was required.

The machines cannot be manually operated, aside from being turned on and instructed to perform a scan.

An ambulance was called which arrived at approximately 11:54 p.m. and reached Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH) at 11:57 p.m., where Jonker was transferred into the care of Dr. Darren Jakubec, the on-call anaesthetist that night at BVDH.

Unable to determine the cause of his injuries, Jakubec had Jonker airlifted to Victoria General Hospital (VGH), leaving BVDH at approxaimtely 5:25 a.m. and arriving at VGH’s general emergency room early the same morning.

At VGH Jonker was under the care of Dr. Peter Sherk, who testified at the inquest he believed Jonker to have been in a state of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or, in other words, the reason his brain wasn’t working was due to a sudden and unknown period of sustained low oxygen levels.

After speaking with Jonker’s family doctor and a brother living in South Africa, a consensus was reached that Jonker would not want to live in the poor neurological condition he would likely be in were he to recover and a decision was made to remove him from life support.

Jonker was pronounced dead at 4:24 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2015 at VGH.

After hearing 19 witnesses over five days, a jury of seven Smithers area residents classified the death as accidental, with “external pressure to the head [and] neck” listed as the immediate cause of death.

The jury also made five (non-binding) recommendatations:

That RCMP “E” Division (British Columbia) review handcuff removal procedure with respect to prisoner booking.

That the division considers implementing a standard Oleoresin Capsicum (pepper) Spray decontamination procedure in a secure location.

That the division requires further compliance with Section 17.1.2.3 of the “E” Division Operational Manual to ensure re-certification occurs within a prescribed time period;

That RCMP consider using this incident as a case study in their Crisis Intervention and De-Escalation (CID) training; and

That the Minister of Education, considers implementing a “Respectful Relationships Program” in the provincial school system.

For our comprehensive coverage of the inquest, see the Sept. 18 edition of The Interior News.

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