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Failing to follow policy led to prisoner’s suicide in police cells, inquest hears

A coroner’s inquest reviewing Jeremy Sabourin’s death in the Moose Jaw Police Service’s (MJPS) detention cells kicked off at Court of King’s Bench on April 15.
Moose Jaw Court of King's Bench. File photo

Editor's note: The following story contains details about a suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

Police failed to follow a policy to physically search prisoners and use a metal-detecting wand when they brought Jeremy Sabourin into the detention area, leading to him dying by suicide with a concealed firearm.    

A coroner’s inquest reviewing Sabourin’s death in the Moose Jaw Police Service’s (MJPS) detention cells kicked off at Court of King’s Bench on April 15. A six-person jury — two men and four women — will hear testimony from witnesses and then make recommendations about how to prevent similar situations from happening again.

RCMP arrested the 40-year-old Assiniboia man on Oct. 6, 2021, for outstanding warrants before driving him to police headquarters that afternoon so he could appear in Moose Jaw Provincial Court the next day. On Oct. 7, at around 8:55 a.m., as police came to take Sabourin from cells, he pulled out a North American Arms Mini Master .22 revolver hidden in his pants and shot himself in the head.

Receiving the prisoner

Const. Chris Flanagan with the MJPS took the witness stand first. He was the staff sergeant on duty on Oct. 6 — he’d held that position for five months — and was instructed to visit the cells to book in Sabourin. The officer began that process and entered information into the computer that RCMP Const. Paul Evans gave him.

The then-staff sergeant — he was later demoted two ranks to the lowest level because of this situation — asked Sabourin several standard questions, including one about whether he felt suicidal. However, the prisoner didn’t answer; meanwhile, he only answered one other question. 

Flanagan noted that there was no policy to deal with someone not answering the questions, nor whether they answered yes to being suicidal, since all the responses were for general information. 

The computer system flagged Sabourin as suicidal, likely from a past encounter with police, but Flanagan didn’t see any more information and didn’t dig further into it. 

Faulty information

The policeman asked Evans whether he had searched Sabourin and whether he had found anything. The RCMP officer replied that Sabourin had been searched and nothing was found. He also said he was not the original arresting officer and was simply transporting him.

“I asked Jeremy if he needed to be searched and he said no,” Flanagan continued, explaining he asked because it was about “building report with the prisoners who come in.”

The MJPS constable asked Sabourin to lift his shirt to see if he was wearing a belt — he wasn’t — because there were concerns the latter might hang himself since that had happened before. 

After following the booking-in process, Flanagan placed the Assiniboia man into a cell around 5 p.m., then finished his shift and went home.

Pulling the trigger

Flanagan returned the next day and learned from a constable who was preparing to take prisoners to provincial court that Sabourin was complaining about back pain. The then-staff sergeant visited the cells, unlocked the door and asked the Assiniboia man how he was doing and whether he needed EMS.

“He just kind of sat there. He looked at me, told me to turn away, and then pulled out a gun and shot himself (in the mouth),” Flanagan recalled, noting he didn’t look away.

The officer quickly pulled another colleague away from the cell door and slammed it shut. He waited three seconds before opening the door to check on the prisoner, who was bleeding on the ground. One constable checked on the man while Flanagan went for help.

The now-constable said everything was a blur after that, although he recalled radioing dispatch for EMS support. Other officers arrived and began performing First Aid, although Flanagan did not assist. 

Two escort officers then took Flanagan and his colleague to separate rooms in the building as per procedure.

Unaware of in-house policies

Robin Ritter, the coroner’s counsel, told the constable that MJPS policy says prisoners must be searched, but the officer didn’t do that. Flanagan acknowledged that he didn’t because he relied on and trusted what the RCMP said instead of adhering to the policy. 

There were metal-detection wands available that could have located the gun but weren’t used because, as Flanagan said, “it was not common practice,” and he never saw anyone else use them. 

“At the time, I was unaware of that policy,” he stated. 

The police service has updated its detention cell policies so that officers must use a wand on all prisoners — it purchased new devices — and pasted signs on the wall reminding members to search prisoners and use wands. Moreover, there is no leniency for anyone who doesn’t follow the updated policy.

Severe discipline

Flanagan was disciplined by being demoted to constable and being suspended for one month without pay. Furthermore, he had to re-qualify on equipment like firearms, batons and tasers and was on close supervision for one year. 

He took 10 months off following Sabourin’s death, while he took on light duties following his return. He was also told to read the updated policies, which he did, although he only “skimmed over them.” 

Furthermore, he said officers receive emails about new policies and changes, although they don’t need to confirm whether they’ve read the updated documents or will comply with them. 

Policy gives direction

Stephen McLachlin, the RCMP’s legal counsel, asked Flanagan whether he was aware of the MJPS’s 37-page policy about the control and transport of prisoners; the constable said no, nor did he know whether administration enforced it two years ago.

McLachlin said the document was dated July 5, 2017, and since the officer had been employed since 2009, he should have been aware. He highlighted one section, which said police must search prisoners even when they come from another agency and must do so regardless of what the transporting member says. 

Flanagan replied that he understood. 

Destiny Gibney, the MJPS’s legal counsel, posed several questions to the constable. 

Flanagan replied that Evans did not give him any information about the charges or why Sabourin was there aside from attending court; he was unaware of any search warrants for the man; he was unaware that the prisoner had evaded RCMP for almost a year; the computer system showed no results for weapons searches; and he had no information about Sabourin’s state of mind.

Also, while Sabourin lifted his shirt to show he wasn’t wearing a belt, Flanagan couldn’t recall if he saw the man’s underwear — where the pistol was hidden — and never checked the waistband.

Two other MJPS officers and a Regina Police Service detective later took the stand. 

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