Yukon paramedic files written complaint against RCMP after cell 'choking'

An RCMP officer in the Yukon allegedly choked a restrained prisoner in police cells until the man lost consciousness, and asked attending paramedics to delay providing medical attention, according to a written complaint by one of the paramedics.

The complaint was filed by Sasha Podolchak with the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP on Sept. 5, 2009. It refers to an incident that took place on Oct. 21, 2008.

Podolchak's allegation about Cpl. Rob MacDougall's actions paints a disturbing picture of what can happen to those arrested by the RCMP.

"People are too unaware of what happens in RCMP cells, and I'd like people to be more aware so we can put an end to this. It's inhumane," said Podolchak in a phone interview.

According to the complaint, the paramedic team arrived at the Whitehorse RCMP detachment to treat a man in police custody. RCMP reported the patient had a self-inflicted head wound. When the ambulance team arrived at the detachment, police asked the two paramedics to stand back from the cells while officers restrained the injured man, strapping down his ankles and wrists and placing a spit guard around his mouth.

With the prisoner restrained, Podolchak and her partner asked if they could come in and treat the bleeding wound on the patient's head.

"I asked if I could proceed to his side and look at the head laceration," wrote Podolchak in her one-page complaint. "I was told to wait by Cpl. McDougall."

The prisoner began to yell the officers had given him the head wound and that he was being denied medical assistance. His mouth was filling up with blood from his head wound and so the man leaned forward to spit it out.

The complaint details what happened next, according to Podolchak.

"He made an effort to clear the blood from his own mouth under the spit hood by spitting the blood toward his lap area. The corporal then forced the patient's head back with both his hands around the patient's neck and throat area. The patient resisted this, trying to push his head forward. All the while, I witnessed the corporal pushing hard on the patient's throat and neck. There were other constables standing around watching this whole incident unfold," wrote Podolchak in her complaint.

At one point during the incident, Podolchak alleges, Const. Terra Taylor told her supervisor the patient was choking. MacDougall ignored her, and continued until the patient lost consciousness.

"Constable Terra Taylor, who was standing behind the patient to his right side asked Corporal MacDougall to stop choking the patient. But the corporal did not acknowledge her comment [and] just continued his actions," Podolchak wrote.

"A few more moments passed, and I witnessed the corporal choked the patient until he faded from consciousness.

This occurred while the patient was in the chair, arms and legs tied down, with a spit hood fastened around his head and neck."

Podolchak said she did not want to witness to any further violence so she asked her partner to take over the call and left the RCMP station.

The complaint is being investigated at Yukon's M Division.

"It's inappropriate for me to comment on that because it is still being investigated," said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Don Rogers.

MacDougall left M Division in July, but Rogers would not confirm whether he was serving at another detachment.

Podolchak says that she was very upset by witnessing the incident, and feels compelled to seek justice on this issue. M Division could not confirm the status of the complaint.

"We support the Public Complaints Commission, and they do important work, and we have nothing to hide and we co-operate with them fully," said Rogers.

"I want people to be aware of how serious this is," said Podolchak, who was interviewed by Whitehorse RCMP about the incident.

"Witnessing that violence had long-term negative effects on me and I hope that by complaining I can stop it from happening again."

Former Yukon News reporter Meagan Perry is the executive producer of the rabble podcast network at rabble.ca. The story has been simultaneously published in The Yukon News, a Whitehorse-based independent newspaper.

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