Police should receive specialized training to recognize when someone has suffered a potential spinal cord injury, a judge has recommended.
The recommendation by provincial court Judge Ted Lismer was one of 10 included in an inquest report released yesterday into the death of Alan Earle (Sonny) Rupert.
Rupert, 47, died at Health Sciences Centre on Feb. 13, 2005, eight months after fracturing his spine while being escorted out of a Magnus Avenue rooming house following a domestic dispute.
An inquest last year heard officers had handcuffed Rupert — severely intoxicated and in stocking feet — and were escorting him down a stairwell when he lost his footing and tumbled down several stairs, knocking his head on a door.
Police officers testified they picked Rupert up, believing he had not suffered a significant injury, when they noticed he was not putting any weight on his legs and was slipping out of consciousness.
The accident left Rupert a quadriplegic. An investigation established Rupert’s cause of death as aspiration pneumonia due to quadriplegia.
“Every Winnipeg Police Service member should receive specialized first-aid education and training sensitive to an accurate recognition of a potential spinal injury and that a person such as Mr. Rupert should not be moved before the arrival of appropriate emergency health care personnel, even where the fallen person was not complaining of any injuries,” Lismer wrote.
A police safety expert testified the officers acted in accordance with standard safety procedures. “Nevertheless, the experience of the accident points to certain basic recommendations to be implemented as to the safe escorting of an intoxicated, unsteady person handcuffed behind his back down a narrow and hazardous stairway,” Lismer wrote.
Lismer said police should consider several factors when escorting a suspect in such circumstances, including the best way to grip their arm, when to use the handrail, and the impact of footwear — or lack of — on a suspect’s mobility.
Lismer also recommended that police ensure blood samples are taken and retained for the Chief Medical Examiner and that the medical examiner’s office be notified of any serious injury sustained in custody.
“In this case, the blood samples were taken from Mr. Rupert upon admission to the hospital but were not retained and were destroyed,” Lismer wrote. “This notification would enable the Chief Medical Examiner to consider the extent to the investigation to be conducted and the taking and retaining of blood samples.”
A lawsuit filed by Rupert’s daughter Misty Dawn Rupert remains before the courts.
By DEAN PRITCHARD, SUN MEDIA