Guard tells inquest she wishes she’d done more

Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench -- Herald file photo

The inquest into the death of Ryan Kereluk continued on Wednesday with testimony from the three guards who last saw him before he died

A guard who was working the day before Ryan Kereluk died says she still feels guilty she didn’t do more to try and save his life.

Valerie Dubois was employed as a matron, or female cell guard, in the Prince Albert police cells at the time of Kereluk’s death. Dubois said she worried the 34-year-old Kereluk wasn’t in good health, and told the matron who replaced her at 11 p.m. on May 17 to check in on him if she had time. Kereluk was found unresponsive in his cell the next morning.

Dubois was one of three cell guards who testified at day three of the inquest into Ryan Kereluk’s death. She told the inquest that guards had a special alarm button they could push if a prison was in danger. She wishes she’d pushed it before clocking out.

“I still live with that guilt to this day,” Dubois told the inquest.

Dubois’ testimony caused a brief moment of confusion during Wednesday’s hearing. Coroners council said they had no recollection of Dubois including the conversation with the second matron in her original statement. Dubois said she believed she had included it. Coroners council also said they felt Dubois’ feelings of guilt were misplaced.

Dubios knew Kereluk’s mother from a group home they lived in as teenagers, and while they are on friendly terms, they haven’t kept in touch. The night Dubois saw Kereluk in police cells was their first meeting in roughly four to five years.

Dubois said she didn’t notify the male cell guard on duty about her concerns because another matron had told her not to bother him. She also said she didn’t work well with that particular guard, and believed her replacement matron would have more success.

Dubois said Kereluk looked half-dazed when he arrived in police cells, like he needed a good night’s sleep. However, she also said she only saw him briefly before he was placed in his cell. During the evening of May 17, she also heard someone coughing and getting sick on the male side of the cell block, however she couldn’t be sure who it was.

Dubois was raised in Prince Albert and said it wasn’t uncommon to see people she knew in police cells. Her employment as a matron was terminated on Aug. 4, 2018. Dubois told the inquest she was not given a reason for the dismissal.

Male cell guards Ray Willis and Clement Benrot also testified on Wednesday. Willis started his shift at 10 p.m. on May 17, and was replaced by Benrot shortly before 6 a.m. the next day. Willis testified before Dubois, so he did not have a chance to respond to her comments about their poor working relationship. Benrot testified afterwards, but was not asked about his working relationship with the matrons either.

Instead, most of the questions focused on training. Willis has roughly 15 years experience as a cell guard, while Benrot has 26, but both said they received little in the way of CPR or emergency medical instruction. Typically, the only training new hires receive is an orientation walkthrough from older guards.

Cell guards are limited in the amount of contact they can have with prisoners due to safety concerns. When one is in medical distress, they are supposed to contact the on-duty police sergeant overseeing the cell block.

Willis testified that he had received some training from Parkland Ambulance about four years ago. Benrot said he didn’t get the training, likely because he was farming. The guards struggled at times when asked about certain policies included in the policy manual. However, Benrot said that manual was “ancient” and many of the policies no longer applied once they installed security cameras several years ago.

For example, the old policy required visual cell checks every 10 minutes, but Benrot and Willis typically performed checks every 30 minutes instead. Willis testified that guards often made additional checks while doing their regular duties.

According to evidence presented by Sgt. Adam Dunn on Monday, the longest time between cell checks that day was around 38 minutes. Both guards said that’s possible on a busy night.

Willis testified that he thought Kereluk was intoxicated at the start of his shift because he was constantly asking to change cells and using abusive language. However, he also testified that Kereluk became much more cordial after the police sergeant moved him to a different cell. Kereluk even apologized for his previous behavior, and pronounced his words clearly and without any slurred speech.

Willis performed 11 cell checks and more than 20 monitor checks on Kereluk during his shift. He neither saw nor heard any signs of medical distress. Willis did find vomit while cleaning up Kereluk’s old cell, but said it’s not unusual for prisoners to be sick.

Willis added that he believed giving guards additional medical training would help them spot problems sooner, however he also noted that guards can only observe what they see and report to a police officer.

Benrot testified that he was not told about any potential medical emergencies when he replaced Willis just before 6 a.m. Benrot’s only interaction with Kereluk came just over 30 minutes later, when Kereluk asked when breakfast was. Benrot testified that Kereluk “sounded normal” when they talked about breakfast, and that Kereluk never appeared to be in any kind of medical distress.

Benrot delivered it at around 7:13 a.m., but took it away untouched at around 7:40 a.m. After delivering breakfast, Benrot performed four different checks on Kereluk, but said he thought he could see Kereluk breathing.

Benrot said he was concerned because Kereluk wasn’t eating a meal he’d asked for roughly half an hour ago. However, Benrot also said it’s not uncommon for prisoners to sleep through meals, or pretend to be sick. Both guards testified that some prisoners do pretend to need medical care, and will then try to escape while being transported to hospital. Benrot estimated that this happens around once a month.

According to video footage shown on Monday, Kereluk experienced medical distress in his cell at around 6:57 a.m. on May 18. At around 7 a.m., he was seen moving for the last time. The on-duty sergeant tried to bring Kereluk his breakfast a second time after Benrot removed it. The police sergeant entered the cell at around 7:54 a.m. while staff called for an ambulance. A doctor at Victoria Hospital pronounced Kereluk dead at around 8:53 a.m.

Sgt. Brandon Mudry of the Prince Albert Police Service was the only other witness called on Wednesday. Mudry was a primary care paramedic before becoming a police officer 18 years ago, and was responsible for moving Kereluk from cell 15 to cell nine.

Mudry testified that he was unaware Kereluk had a prescription for Ibuprofen, and added that Kereluk did not appear to have any medical problems.

“I noted nothing unusual from the time I opened his cell door, other than his cell presentation,” Mudry told the inquest.

Kereluk’s cell was flooded before he asked to be moved. Mudry said Kereluk moved under his own power and was cognizant enough to avoid stepping in pools of water during the transfer.

Mudry was the first witness to testify at Wednesday’s session. He said he had not had any previous problems with the guards who were on duty during his shift. He also said he believed additional medical emergency training would help guards identify potential health problems, however he reiterated that allowing guards to have contact with prisoners was a significant safety risk.

The inquest continues at the Court of Queen’s Bench on Thursday, Dec. 5, starting at 9:30 a.m.