The fourth day of a public inquest into the death of a Port Alberni teen took place on the fifth anniversary of her death.
Jocelyn George, 18, died of heart failure in hospital in Victoria on June 24, 2016 after transfer from police custody at the Port Alberni RCMP detachment. She had spent a day and a night in custody.
Cst. Tyler Cargill was acting as the watch commander for the Port Alberni detachment during the night that George was in police custody. Cargill admitted to the court on June 24, 2021 that he had no direct interaction with George, even though part of his duty was to make checks of all prisoners at the beginning and end of his shift.
Cargill testified that he was in and out of the block throughout the night due to other calls and he relied on the guards to check on the prisoners.
Guards did not provide her with food due to her intoxication, despite a policy that says all prisoners must be provided with food—even those who are intoxicated.
“I have made myself aware of the policy since this occurrence,” said Cargill.
Mauke Mauke is a city-employed guard who was working at the Port Alberni detachment in 2016. He interacted with George while she was detained on June 23 and said she was able to hold conversation with him. He was surprised when he started his shift just before 7 a.m. on June 24 to find that she was back in the cell block and in much worse condition.
“She seemed different on the second day,” Mauke recalled. “It got my attention, so I was worried.”
After alerting the watch commander, Jason Patovirta, Mauke made breakfast for George but noted in his log book that George was “struggling to get to the door.” Within an hour and a half, she had been taken to the hospital with low pressure and extremely low blood sugar.
Ryan Sexton was another guard who looked after George for about three hours on the evening of June 23. He said he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about her behaviour.
Sexton testified that since the incident, he has struggled with anxiety and depression. He no longer works as a guard.
“I’ve thought about this incident every day for the last five years,” said Sexton.
Stephen Mabley was the guard working the night shift while George was in the “drunk tank” or open cell overnight. Mabley testified that he is suffering from memory loss due to some serious medical issues. In June of 2016, Mabley’s spinal cord stimulator failed, causing him pain and migraines. He left his job as a guard “within a couple of days” of George’s death due to his medical condition and says he has no memory of this time.
Both Mauke and Mabley marked in their log books that they had completed physical checks of all the prisoners every 15 minutes, but CCTV footage shows that some of these physical checks were not completed.
Mauke admitted that sometimes he only checked on the prisoners by video instead of in person. June 23 had been a “very busy morning” he said, and guards have other duties along with monitoring the prisoners—including cleaning, preparing food for prisoners and assisting officers with paperwork.
Both Mauke and Sexton said that having a second guard on shift would be helpful to monitor prisoners and complete these other tasks.
Mauke noted that there are many people brought into the detachment for intoxication, especially young, First Nations people. He suggested that Port Alberni could use a sobering centre with cultural wellness training. The city currently has one sobering centre operated by the Port Alberni Shelter Society, “but it’s not enough,” said Mauke.
“A holding cell is not the place to be,” he said. “I wish there were better alternatives for them.”
The city’s former Officer in Charge agreed with this assessment. Inspector Brian Hunter joined as the Officer in Charge of the Port Alberni detachment shortly after George’s death. He explained that one of his first tasks was to look at the prisoner log book.
“There was not enough red ink in that log book,” he said. The red ink is how supervisors—usually the watch commanders—document their observations.
Hunter undertook a management review in 2017, after which some changes were made to the detachment. One of these changes was that intoxicated prisoners must be awake or awakened by guards every four hours.
Hunter noted that the last time George was seen standing on CCTV footage was at 1:30 a.m. Despite this, she wasn’t given medical attention until after 8 a.m.
“When someone is in our cells, we’ve basically taken their rights away,” said Hunter. “We have to do our utmost best to treat everyone in our cells with the utmost care and respect.”
Hunter said that Port Alberni has one of the busiest cell blocks in the country, and many of the prisoners who are kept there are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Thirty to 40 to 50 percent of people in cells don’t belong in jail,” said Hunter. “But there’s no other place. The system is failing our most vulnerable people.”
Hunter left the Port Alberni detachment in January 2020. He is now an RCMP superintendent in Penticton.
Presiding coroner Margaret Janzen noted that the inquest is not conducted to find fault, but to prevent another incident like this from happening in the future.
“This is a fact-finding exercise, not a fault-finding exercise,” she said.
The inquest will continue at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni this week. At the end of the inquest, the jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.