Alyssa George’s family questions RCMP response at inquest into in-custody death
Video shows Alyssa George lying face-first on the jail cell floor for several minutes before police intervened
By Daybreak South, CBC News, Oct 21, 2015
“I can’t breathe.”
That’s what Mark Oleksiuk remembers hearing his wife Alyssa George say shortly before she was found in medical distress in her cell at the Terrace RCMP holding cells on Sept. 4, 2013.
Oleksiuk, who was being held in a nearby cell at the time, appeared at the B.C. Supreme Court in Terrace on Oct. 19 to give his testimony at a public inquest into George’s death.
George, a 25-year-old First Nations woman, also known as Alyssa Oleksiuk, was found face-first on the floor of her jail cell 15 hours after being taken into custody on an arrest warrant.
She was flown to Vancouver General Hospital for more intensive treatment, but died there on Sept. 10, 2013.
Oleksiuk told CBC News that he was held in the cells at the same time as his wife because of a failure to appear in court in Victoria.
He said he was about 18 feet away from her cell.
“All I know was that I could hear my wife loud enough, and I could hear clearly what she was saying,” he said.
“‘I can’t breathe. That’s what I heard from her.”
Oleksiuk said the guards responded to George by telling her they were busy and would get to her when they could.
He estimates it was at least 45 minutes after she said she couldn’t breathe that the guards finally came to her.
“I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with her? What’s going on? Is everything okay? I can tell you that I do recall praying about these things,” he said.
Oleksiuk said it “took quite a while” before the paramedics were called.
After he saw her being removed from her cell, he demanded that a guard tell him what was happening.
“I can see her being rolled out, and I’m yelling to her,” he recalled.
“When I see that she’s not conscious and they’re rolling her by me, I’m yelling to her just hoping that she’ll respond to my voice, because I know if she hears me she’ll at least say something. But no response.”
Oleksiuk was later taken to see George in hospital, and said her face was so bloated that she didn’t “even look like the same human being.”
“I just bent over there and I put my face to her forehead and … I just prayed, I just talked to the Lord and to her and I can’t remember exactly what my words were.”
When asked if he said goodbye, Oleksiuk sighed and said, “I don’t know.”
Oleksiuk testified before presiding coroner Donita Kuzma and a jury, who are hearing from witnesses to determine the facts surrounding George’s death.
The jury will then present recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths under similar circumstances, but may not make findings of fault.
Face-first on cell floor
Maureen Englemeyer — who raised George, her grandchild — was also at the inquest on Oct. 19.
During the inquest she saw video that showed George lying face-first for several minutes on the jail cell floor before police intervened.
She told CBC News that she questions why George wasn’t checked up on earlier.
She said she was shocked when she was called by police and told that George was in serious condition in the hospital.
“She was on life support already, and I don’t know how long she had been on. When they put her on life support, I don’t know, they didn’t tell us,” she said in tears, recalling visiting her granddaughter in hospital.
“It was rough, because I don’t know if she heard us talking to her, and I wasn’t able to hear her last words”