THE B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint on Wednesday in relation to the police-involved death of a First Nations man in Prince George in July 2017, raising allegations that members of the Prince George RCMP told witnesses to delete cellphone video evidence of the incident. In the complaint, the BCCLA questioned whether racial bias on the part of RCMP officers played a role in the incident.
According to reports, Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Wet’suwet’en man, was approached by an RCMP officer responding to a call about someone allegedly casing cars in a parking lot. The BCCLA said it understands, based on reports, that the RCMP saw Culver hours after the call had been made, and had no information that he was connected to any suspicious activity when they began to question him.
Cellphone footage and photos apparently related to the incident appear to show a large number of officers pinning a subject to the ground. According to the RCMP and the Independent Investigations Office, the officers also used pepper spray on Culver during a struggle before putting him in a police vehicle. According to an RCMP statement, Culver appeared to have trouble breathing. He was apparently taken out of the police car after an ambulance arrived, but he immediately collapsed and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter in a hospital.
The IIO stated that it believes there were a number of eyewitnesses to the incident. The BCCLA is aware of troubling allegations that RCMP members told some witnesses to delete cellphone video that they had taken.
Chief Namoks of the Tsayu clan of the Wet’suwet’en, Culver’s home Nation, stated: “Dale Culver should not have died that night. We need to get to the bottom of why he wound up dead at the hands of the Prince George RCMP, and of the allegations that officers told witnesses to delete their cellphone video evidence of the incident.”
Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, and the Tribal Chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council based in Prince George, stated: “This tragic incident, and the appearance that officers tried to cover it up, further harms the chance for First Nations to trust the police that are supposed to protect them. There is so much work that needs to be done to create a relationship between Indigenous people and the police where we can feel safe and protected, in Prince George and across BC.”
Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA, stated: “We have heard from witnesses that the police told them to delete the cellphone video they had taken of the incident. It is a crime for police to tell witnesses to delete evidence that could be relevant to an investigation. We expect that the Independent Investigations Office will fully investigate the allegations that police officers caused evidence to be destroyed, or attempted to do so. And if any other witnesses saw this happening, hopefully they will come forward.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated: “We have serious questions as to why Dale was approached by police to begin with. We have been told that the police stopped him hours after they had heard a report about a First Nations man looking at vehicles. Several hours later, we understand that they stopped a First Nations man walking out of a store, and now he is dead. Did police stop him just because he is Indigenous? Did they have any justification at all to stop him? Was their use of force at all justified? Did the officers engage in a criminal cover-up of what happened? Dale’s family, the public, and First Nations communities need to have answers to these questions.”