(CONTENT WARNING: the following story contains descriptions of suicide)
William Whitebear died while in custody at the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre on November 2, 2020 while serving a two-year jail term.
A coroner’s inquest into his death is taking place at the Saskatoon Inn this week where 14 witnesses are expected to testify on the circumstances around Whitebear’s death.
On Monday morning, a lengthy jury selection process took place as many potential jurors were unable to serve and even a few who were selected had to back out. Eventually, a 6 person jury was confirmed – 3 of whom are Indigenous.
At the conclusion of the inquest, the jury will have an opportunity to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
First witness is the lead investigator
The first witness at the inquest was Sgt. Andrew Johnstone of the Saskatoon Police Service who was brought in to the lead the investigation into Whitebear’s death.
Johnstone testified evidence showed William Whitebear died by suicide using a “braided cloth” to hang himself in his cell from a fixed shelf.
Johnstone also says a suicide note was found on Whitebear, which he read out as evidence. He also says in the evening prior to his death Whitebear made several calls to his girlfriend, which were recorded. According to Johnstone, the last of these conversations was a heated argument in which Johnstone says Whitebear indicated his desire to harm himself three different times.
Johnston also testified there was no evidence to indicate staff at the correctional centre would have known Whitebear was suicidal prior to his death. The recorded phone call with his girlfriend was only listened to by investigators after his death.
The Saskatoon police officer says the hourly checks at the correctional centre were conducted in accordance to policy and Whitebear was found in medical distress at 12:35 am on November 2, 2020. He says life-saving attempts were made, but were unsuccessful and Whitebear was pronounced dead shortly after.
The second witness, a nurse employed at the correctional centre, was unable to attend the inquest in person. However, a statement of hers was read to the jury.
The witness statement confirmed previous testimony that Whitebear had no suicidal ideation prior to his death.
The inquest also heard from correctional centre staff who indicated Whitebear was “low-risk” for suicide and there were no immediate concerns for his safety.
The inquest is expected to wrap up on Wednesday.
(PHOTO – File photo of the Saskatoon Povincial Correctional Centre.)