Shirtless police officer steps on handcuffed man’s back, doctor watches at First Nation nursing station
Coroner’s inquest examines how Romeo Wesley, 34, died after being restrained at Cat Lake nursing station
By Jody Porter, CBC News, July 10, 2017
Police officers pepper-sprayed Romeo Wesley, subdued him with a baton, handcuffed him, then stepped on his back and neck with their boots on the night the 34-year-old died at the Health Canada nursing station in Cat Lake First Nation.
At one point, a doctor watches as two Nishnawbe Aski police officers — one who has removed his shirt — press their boots into Wesley’s back as he lies face-down on the floor of the waiting area of the nursing station, kicking his legs.
A security video shown at a coroner’s inquest and obtained by CBC News and other media shows several minutes pass after Wesley stops moving before anyone checks his vital signs.
Police are seen taking photographs of the prone man. A nurse is visible at various times throughout the 45-minute video mopping the floor around Wesley and offering towels to the police officers after they’d subdued Wesley.
The video, from the nursing station’s security camera, was entered into evidence last week at a coroner’s inquest into Wesley’s death in September 2010.
He had gone to the nursing station — the only health facility in the community — seeking help. A former chief of Cat Lake told CBC News that Wesley may have been suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
“Essentially, Romeo died from heavy pressure on his back, compressing his chest,” Russell Wesley told CBC News.
Early in the video, Romeo Wesley is seen anxiously pacing the nursing station hallway, running up to and slamming into the door to the waiting area that a local security guard held shut.
The doctor who was at the nursing station that night, Dr. Harriet Lennox, and one of the officers involved, were scheduled to testify at the inquest on Monday. Proceedings are expected to wrap up next week.
The nursing station is “supposed to be a safe, healthy environment — that’s what Romeo wanted,” band manager Alec Oombash said before the inquest began. “He went there, and that’s what cost him his life.”
After years of lobbying to host the inquest in the fly-in First Nation, the community hopes it brings better health services and higher quality policing, Oombash said.
Wesley was known in the community as a good hunter who knew the land well.
Cat Lake First Nation is located about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. About 500 people live there.