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Family Pleads for ASIRT to Actively Investigate Death of Alberta Man Who Died in RCMP Custody

For the second time in less than a year and a half, an Alberta man has died while in custody of the Grande Prairie RCMP. Despite evidence to suggest the matter should be under ASIRT’s purview, a decision has been made to allow a specialty unit within the Grande Prairie RCMP to investigate and control the case.

On June 3, 2022, Addison Hartzler called 911 requesting help for what he believed to be a break and enter at his residence. The family was told that RCMP officers arrived at the scene and failed to find evidence that a break and enter had occurred; the RCMP then made the decision to take Addison into custody for public mischief – within nine minutes of arrival at his residence.

The family believes Addison was taken into custody unlawfully since the Criminal Code of Canada requires officers to have reasonable grounds, to prove that a false report was made intentionally and that there was an “intent to mislead.”

According to information provided by the RCMP, Addison’s behaviour indicated that EMS or a doctor should have assessed him prior to being detained. The officers who arrested Addison said he "was either unwilling to provide his name, or was unable to provide his name, and therefore, they were holding him in order to identify him when he was willing to provide his name to the charge." In a phone conversation with Addison’s family after the incident, the RCMP indicated Addison was acting in a psychotic and delusional manner.

“It is our view that, given his alleged state of health, Addison was unlawfully detained and that the RCMP failed to provide the necessaries of life,” says Addison’s father, Gregory Hartzler. “We believe these system failures resulted in Addison’s untimely death.”

Addison Hartzler

According to the RCMP, at no point was Addison assessed by EMS or a doctor. Additionally, Information received from a request to Alberta Health Services under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act indicates that Addison was last seen alive at 9 a.m. – more than two hours before RCMP placed the request for EMS. The EMS report indicated that Addison was “obviously dead” and had been for some time. The family has serious concerns regarding the two-hour gap between when Addison was last seen alive and when EMS was called.

“Due to the circumstances surrounding his death, we believe there was gross negligence in respect to the care provided to Addison while in custody of the Grande Prairie RCMP and their staff, and that an internal investigation by the RCMP is neither appropriate nor adequate,” continues Hartzler. “As a result, we implore the Government of Alberta to direct ASIRT to handle the investigation.”

ASIRT is an arm’s length, independent team created under Alberta’s Police Act toinvestigate situations where Alberta police may have caused serious injury or death or when significant allegations of police misconduct have been made.

According to an email exchange between the Hartzler family lawyer and Mr. Marlin Degrand, an assistant deputy minister for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General who was the executive director of the Government of Alberta’s Law Enforcement Oversight Branch at the time, it appears the decision to have the RCMP investigate instead of ASIRT was in part due to capacity issues at ASIRT. In his email Mr. Degrand stated he directed the RCMP to oversee the investigation, “…taking into consideration the tasking events recently given to ASIRT.”

In further communications between Mr. Degrand and the family, Mr. Degrand indicated that, “Because there was no report of confrontation with police, and no indication of negligence on behalf of the police, I directed that the RCMP should retain carriage of the investigation”.

“It is unfathomable that the Government of Alberta does not believe there to be negligence when evidence from EMS states that my son was ‘obviously dead’ and had been for a substantial period of time,” says Hartzler.

According to RCMP policy, members must “check prisoner[s] frequently and at irregular intervals to ensure their security and well-being. The intervals are to be no more than 15 minutes apart. These checks must be physical checks, not a check of the CCVE.”

“It’s disappointing to see an agency set up by the Alberta Government as a police agency ‘watch dog’ is simply too over tasked and underfunded to actively investigate the death of an individual in police custody. It is suspicious this case is being treated differently than a recent case with seemingly similar circumstances,” adds Hartzler.

The RCMP are under investigation for a similar death in custody that occurred on February 8, 2021, at the same detachment. ASIRT is actively investigating that incident.

“Albertans should be aware of the RCMP and Government of Alberta’s gross negligence and ASIRT’s apparent capacity issues to investigate the death of an individual while in police custody,” continues Hartzler. “By bringing attention to this issue, we hope to prevent a similar situation from happening to another Albertan family. No one should die alone, in fear – especially while police custody.”

Contact Details

CIPR Communications

Peter Pilarski, President

+1 403-462-1160

peter@ciprcommunications.com

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