Jordan Norfield’s mother started crying on Tuesday listening to a police cell guard describe the moments that led up to her son’s death three days later.
Sandy Pitzel has been sitting in on the inquest into Norfield’s death, scheduled to last all week in Prince Albert.
Pitzel hugged the person next to her as she listened to Mike Mesluk’s testimony. Mesluk was working as a guard in the detention cells at the Prince Albert Police Service on Dec. 2, 2020, the day after Norfield was brought into custody for breaching his COVID-19 self-isolation orders.
“Jordan was one of those guys that you could share a little joke (with),” described Mesluk. “He was a good prisoner.”
Mesluk testified that Norfield was frequently brought into the detention cells intoxicated. However, he said, he was always polite and typically curled up on the bed in a blanket.
On Monday, the inquest saw video clips from Norfield’s cell that showed him acting normal for the first half of the night. Around 1:30 a.m., he appeared to start losing his balance, shaking, and eventually looked to be having convulsions that led to hitting his head on the concrete walls.
He laid on the floor for three and a half hours before receiving help, as shown in the inquest.
“He was messed up,” said Mesluk, but also testified that “it didn’t appear to be critical.”
Mesluk came in around 5:30 a.m., replacing another guard, Paul Lecore. Lecore worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. that night.
He said he pressed an emergency alarm, which communicates to the sergeant and other officers on duty to come for assistance. As Mesluk and Lecore explained, guards are not allowed to open cell doors, but monitor prisoners through video footage and conduct checks every 10 minutes.
“He looked like he was having a seizure,” Lecore described. “I thought he should’ve went to the hospital at that time.”
According to an agreed statement of facts, Norfield went to the Victoria Hospital twice for chest pain before being taken into custody. Blood and urine tests, along with a chest scan, suggested he was healthy.
Paramedics arrived at the cell block around 9 a.m. — about seven hours after Norfield started to appear “disoriented,” as described on Monday by Sgt. Curtis Bradbury.
Bradbury said paramedics weren’t there because Norfield was in medical distress, but for a scheduled transfer to hospital. The Saskatchewan Health Authority required an assessment for Norfield to determine if he was medically fit to be transported to North Battleford to isolate at a COVID-19 detention facility.
Emergency doctor says he was not aware of Norfield’s ‘disoriented’ state throughout the night
Paramedics transported Norfield to the emergency room, where he saw Dr. Ferdie Smit.
Smit told the inquest that Norfield had a laceration on his head, which he washed out and stapled. A scan of his brain came back normal.
He said he was not aware of Norfield’s high water consumption, vomiting, and urination throughout the night. Being aware of his apparent seizures, in particular, would have been important to know, he said.
“I’m very surprised that all of this history and information was not communicated,” said Smit about police and paramedics.
He added that normally the communication is “quite good,” but “in this case, it wasn’t.”
Smit’s biggest concern from further testing was his elevated creatine kinase (CK) levels. Normal levels are between 30 and 200, he said, whereas Norfield’s came back at 11,000.
Smit treated this through IV fluids to flush the enzymes through his system so that they wouldn’t get stuck in his kidneys, he explained.
Smit diagnosed Norfield with rhabdomyolysis, where damaged muscle tissue releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood. The condition can come from a number of factors, including traumatic injury, infection, illegal drugs, alcohol and intense exercise.
He also diagnosed Norfield with dehydration — without knowing about his excessive water intake — and hypokalemia, which is low potassium levels.
Norfield died in hospital on Dec. 5.
Witnesses scheduled for Wednesday include more police officers and medical professionals.
Inquests are not meant to place blame, but to determine the circumstances leading to someone’s death so that similar deaths can be prevented in the future. The six-person jury in Norfield’s inquest may make recommendations to relevant parties for future improvements.
Inquests are mandatory for deaths of someone in custody, unless they died of entirely natural causes that could not have been prevented.