Kereluk family satisfied with recommendations as inquest closes

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

Increase guard supervision, provide first aid training, and update cellblock policy manuals.

Those were just some of the eight recommendations made by jurors on the final day of the inquest into Ryan Kereluk’s death.

Family members, including Kereluk’s mother, father, and two siblings, waited patiently and quietly as the six-member jury delivered their recommendations at Prince Albert’s Court of Queen’s bench Friday afternoon. All recommendations were directed at the Prince Albert Police Service, who had Ryan Kereluk in their custody for more than 24 hours before was found unresponsive in his prison cell on May 18, 2018.

Tina Vermette, Kereluck’s mother, said she was satisfied with the jury’s recommendations, and hopeful they would lead to meaningful change.

“I didn’t want my son’s death to be in vain,” Vermette said after the jury made their recommendations. “I wanted to make sure there are changes…. It just saddens me that Ryan had to die to get these changes.”

The majority of the recommendations focused on guard training and supervision. During the inquest, coroner Timothy Kawryluk said he was concerned the Prince Albert Police Service hadn’t updated their cellblock guard policies since installing new video surveillance equipment. He was also concerned about how guards were supervised, and whether anyone ensured prison guards and matrons were followed proper protocols.

The jury agreed with those observations, calling on the Prince Albert Police Service senior administration to update its policy book, which governs when, how and how often guards check in on prisoners. A number of witnesses admitted the current policy book was outdated, with one guard calling it “ancient” during the inquest.

The jury also called on senior administration to create new standards for guard training, specifically around medical training. The jury recommended all prison guards and matrons receive emergency first aid training from St. John’s Ambulance, among other initiatives. On multiple occasions, police officers and prison guards who testified at the inquest said they thought additional first aid training would be helpful.

The jury also called on police to establish a logbook where guards can record any necessary observations as they make their checks. The current guard policy mentions a logbook, but the guards who testified said they hadn’t had one in years. Guards used a prisoner activity sheet instead.

The jury accepted forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham’s conclusion that Kereluk died by methamphetamine toxicity. They also found that Kereluk’s death was accidental.

Prince Albert Police Service spokesperson Charlene Tebbutt thanked the jury for their recommendations, and said the chief and deputy chief would review them in the coming weeks.

“This is something that’s been on our radar,” she said. “It’s a very important thing for the police service. It’s something we are not taking lightly. All the recommendations will be reviewed carefully.”

Tebbutt added that it’s too early to say how soon they will implement any changes.

With the inquest over, Kereluk’s family will try to get back to life as usual. Following the inquest, Vermette told reporters she’s still convinced it was a wrongful death, but said she doesn’t have the financial means to pursue the matter further.

“That’s fine,” she said. “We’ve done the best we could.”

Ryan Kereluk’s mother, Tina Vermette, speaks to reporters outside the Court of Queen’s Bench on Friday, Dec. 6. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Vermette said much of the evidence had focused on her son’s addiction, and his downward spiral after he broke his neck in a trampoline accident. On Friday, she wanted to make sure people saw a different side of Ryan, a side that was hardworking, outgoing and respected.

She remembered her son as someone who beat his crystal meth addiction and was living a happy and drug free life before he became addicted again after his accident.

She remembered him as someone who loved trucks and music, someone who had a great singing voice, but was a terrible whistler, and would tease his father by intentionally whistling as poorly as possible.

She remembered him as a caring father, who leaves behind a young daughter distraught by his absence.

“They were so close,” Vermette said. “Family gatherings just aren’t the same anymore.”

Ryan Darren Kereluk was found unresponsive in a police prison cell at 7:54 a.m. on May 18, 2018. He was pronounced dead at 8:53 a.m. in Victoria Hospital.

Kereluk was one of several people arrested when a Prince Albert police and RCMP Integrated Street Enforcement Team conducted a search of a residence located on Sixth Avenue West on the evening of May 16, 2018. According to testimony from two ISET officers, Kereluk was not involved in drug trafficking at the residence, but was detained anyway on outstanding warrants.

Multiple police officers and prison guards testified that Kereluk did not appear to be intoxicated prior to his death, nor did he appear to be in medical distress. He did not ask for a doctor or ask to visit a hospital. His only medical request was for Ibuprofen, which officers provided to him because he had a prescription.

At 6:36 a.m. on May 18, he asked the on duty prison guard when he was going to get breakfast. It was the last conversation he had with anyone before passing away.

Video of Kereluk’s cell shows him experiencing some sort of medical distress at around 6:57 a.m. Police entered his cell at 7:54 a.m., after he did not eat his breakfast, which was delivered at around 7:13 a.m. Multiple medical experts testified that Kereluk was likely dead before he was transported to Victoria Hospital, with two coroners witnesses, including forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham, testifying that Kereluk was likely dead before police entered his cell.

Kereluk was 34-years-old.