After two days of testimony at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Brennan Ahenakew-Johnstone, more questions remain than have been answered.
The inquest heard Tuesday from RCMP officers who initially attended the scene of a burnt out vehicle on the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation on May 10, 2018.
Cpl. Shayne Brown of the Shellbrook detachment was the first officer to go to the scene after receiving a call of a burning vehicle on the reserve that may be stolen.
Brown faced a number of questions from both coroner’s office counsel Robin Ritter and Ahenakew-Johnstone family lawyer Evan Strelioff as to why he didn’t investigate further and look inside the vehicle.
Had he done so, he would have seen the body of the 20-year-old Ahenakew-Johnstone inside.
Brown told the inquest the heat and smoke from the fire prevented him from getting close to the vehicle but pictures taken by the RCMP officer at the time and shown to the jury don’t appear to show any prevalent smoke or flames.
“I could feel the heat of the ground under my boots,” Brown said a number of times.
Strelioff pressed Brown on whether there were other options he could have taken to investigate such as phoning other officers for back and he repeated, “I was acting on the information I had at the time.”
At one point coroner Blaine Beaven interjected and told Brown to answer the question at which time he admitted there were other options he may have taken.
The RCMP corporal also told the inquest he did not contact the person who had made the call about the vehicle – nearby neighbour Evelyn Sasakamoose – or recall seizing two items from the scene – a t-shirt and bike.
Later that afternoon, Brown would close the file with a report that said, “no further action required.”
However, within minutes of filing that report, another Shellbrook RCMP officer would be racing to the scene after receiving a report that there was a body inside the vehicle.
That officer was Cpl. Mark Haider who was the shift supervisor that day.
Haider testified to the inquest he had initially been on the First Nation between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. attending to another call when he was approached by Ahenakew-Johnstone’s mother Lisa Johnstone. Johnstone frantically told Brown she believed her son had been murdered and was inside the vehicle.
Haider said he did not pursue the matter further because he had suspects in the back of his vehicle and needed to finish attending to the call which was a search warrant for drugs and weapons.
When asked why he took no notes of the interaction with Johnstone or did not radio the detachment for follow up, the RCMP officer replied, “It was so quick, she said this and then left right away. I didn’t know who she was and I was still on this call.”
Within minutes of the interaction and as he was heading back to the Shellbrook detachment, Haider said he received a call from dispatch about a report of a body being in the vehicle.
He said he then immediately stopped, released the suspects from his vehicle and headed to the scene to secure it.
Cpl. Normand Dupuis of the RCMP’s forensic identification section told the inquest his investigation of the scene on May 10-11 led him to conclude the fire and damage to the car had been caused by an accident.
“Everything here points to a motor vehicle accident,” he said.
Dupuis said the tire tracks leading off the road, impact on nearby trees and displaced rock are all signs of a single vehicle collision.
He also said it is not uncommon for the heat of a vehicle to ignite tall and dry grass underneath it.
The inquest also continued to hear confusing testimony from the Ahtahkakoop Fire Department.
Earlier in the day, firefighter Harold Scott testified he saw a body in the vehicle around 10:30 a.m., a member of the public phoned police and he then waited three hours for officers to arrive.
However, Haider testified dispatch did not receive a call about a body being in the vehicle until 4:30 p.m.
The coroner’s inquest continues on all week in Prince Albert.
(PHOTO: Brennan Ahenakew-Johnstone. File photo.)