HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Rules Weren't Followed, Inquest Told
Pubdate: Thu, 10 Nov 2005
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2005 Whitehorse Star
Author: Candice O'Grady


The night Heather Benson died in RCMP custody, some regulations were 
not followed, a coroner's inquest heard Tuesday. Benson died while 
being transported by the RCMP from Tagish to Whitehorse, when the 
police cruiser rolled off the road and into the ditch.

She was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene of the accident 
as a result of chest wounds, on Sept. 27, 2003.

Const. Jeff Monkman, who was driving the car, was convicted of 
careless driving in a trial held last February and fined $1,000. 
While the detachment commander must be notified when officers are 
seeking a search warrant, Monkman did not phone Sgt. Dan Otterbein 
when he began seeking a search warrant for Benson's home on Sept. 26.

"No, I have no idea why he didn't contact me," Otterbein told the inquest.

He added that he had questions about how the search was conducted and 
why it was carried out at 4:00 in the morning. "There are a myriad of 
variables there," he said. "There are a number of things that had I 
been there I would have done differently. But unfortunately, I wasn't 

For example, Otterbein said they knew Benson's identity and realized 
she wasn't a flight risk as she was a single mother with two children.

When asked by a juror why there was such urgency to conduct the 
search at 4:00 in the morning, he said it wasn't necessary. "In other 
words, yes, the search could have waited until the next day."

Monkman said it didn't cross his mind to contact Otterbein because 
he'd already received advice from someone in the drug unit. He phoned 
the on-call officer from the drug unit in Whitehorse, Const. Leanne 
Lind, for advice on how to proceed with the case. What transpired 
during the phone conversations between Monkman and Lind that night 
was a main theme in the hearing this morning from both coroner's 
counsel Lee Kirkpatrick and Ed Horembala, the lawyer acting for Monkman.

According to Lind, most of their conversation centred around search warrants.

However, they also spoke about how to preserve the marijuana plants 
as evidence, what kinds of charges to lay and what would be required 
for Benson's release on bail.

The advice that Lind gave Monkman regarding what kinds of charges 
should be laid and what those charges meant in terms of releasing 
Benson on bail are of particular importance.

This is because it affected whether or not Benson had to be driven 
into Whitehorse.

Monkman said yesterday that after conversations over the phone with 
Lind, and then with Const. Derek Turner, they decided to charge 
Benson with the production of marijuana. Turner was on duty with 
Monkman that night.

Kirkpatrick explained to the jury that there are three types of 
offences: summary offences, which are generally less serious; 
indictable offences, which are more serious but the Crown can choose 
to try as a summary offence; and straight indictable offences, which 
are the most serious and must be as indictable.

Production of marijuana is a straight indictable offence, Lind said 
this morning. As a result, she said she believed Benson needed to go 
before a justice of the peace or a judge in Whitehorse in order to be 
released on bail.

She said on the stand that they also talked about other options 
because Benson was a single mom and there was no justice of the peace 
with the authority to release her in Carcross.

When asked by Horembala if these other options were documented in her 
notes or in her subsequent statement to police, she said no.

"I gave him the best statement I could at the time," Lind said. "It's 
not that I'm just remembering this now, it's that I had no cause to 
review my notes until shortly before this inquest."

Horembala countered that Monkman acted on Lind's advice that night 
and that the details of the conversation are critical. "It's not a 
minor detail, is it, constable?" he said. "It's not a minor detail 
because what Monkman did was to get in a car and drive."

Two weeks have been set aside for the coroner's inquest, which began 
yesterday morning.

Chief coroner Sharon Hanley is presiding over the inquest, in which 
the jury must determine how and why Benson died.

While a criminal trial, in general, seeks to find out who is 
responsible or liable for a person's death, a coroner's inquest is 
held to analyze the facts of a case and provide recommendations for 
preventing a similar death in the future. The inquest was scheduled 
to continue this afternoon.
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