Police won’t be charged in death of woman in Puvirnituq jail cell

Autopsy showed woman had died of asphyxiation from alcohol consumption, according to Quebec prosecutors

Police in Puvirnituq won’t face charges after a woman was found dead in a jail cell last September. (File photo)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Police in Puvirnituq did not commit criminal negligence in the case of an intoxicated woman who died of asphyxiation in a jail cell last year, a Quebec prosecutor has ruled.

On the evening of Sept. 30, a 39-year-old woman was pronounced dead hours after being arrested for what Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations described at the time as a “violation of a municipal bylaw.”

The bureau, which probes major injuries and deaths involving police in Quebec and submits its report to the province’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, launched an investigation into the incident.

On Thursday, the director office announced in a French-language news release that the officers who were present for the incident would not be charged.

The release included further details of the timeline of the Sept. 30 incident.

At 5:15 pm, someone called police to report two women were arguing in the parking lot of the Co-op store in Puvirnituq. Four officers — two from Nunavik Police Service and two provincial police officers — arrived at the scene.

One of the women left ahead of their arrival, so police left too because no further intervention was required.

However, 20 minutes later police received another call from the Co-op, saying one of the women had returned. Two Nunavik police officers responded, arrested her for public intoxication and drove her in a patrol car back to the station where she could sober up.

“During the transport, unbeknownst to the officers, the woman took out a small bottle of alcohol hidden in her bra and consumed a few ounces of it before throwing it into the bottom of the patrol vehicle,” the director of prosecutions release indicated.

After being taken into a cell, the woman fell asleep. The officers left the station to respond to other calls, leaving her under the supervision of a civilian officer and a security camera.

At 5:51 p.m., the civilian officer checked on the woman in the cell and found “nothing out of the ordinary.” At 6:39 p.m., she was seen on the security camera rolling over.

At 7:15 p.m., the civilian officer checked on the woman again and found she didn’t appear to be breathing, and he called for the police officers to return to the station.

They arrived within five minutes. Finding the woman had no pulse, they attempted to resuscitate her.

The woman was taken to hospital and pronounced dead at 7:52 p.m., the report indicated.

“The autopsy report concludes that the woman died as a result of asphyxiation caused by gastric contents, all attributable to her state of intoxication,” the director of prosecution’s release reported.

According to the release, the officers’ actions did not constitute criminal negligence so no charges will be laid.

It also ruled out any use of force as a factor that may have caused injury or death to the woman.

“The evidence shows that the woman was alone in the cell at the time of her death and that the police did not breach their obligations regarding the incarceration of persons in custody,” the release indicated.

“The autopsy revealed no anatomical or traumatic cause of death.”

Nunavik police have not responded to a request to comment on the prosecutor’s decision.

This incident was the second of two in Nunavik last year in which a woman was taken into police custody for public intoxication and later found dead.

A March 4, 2022, incident in Akulivik involving the death of a 33-year-old woman was investigated by the bureau. The director of criminal and penal prosecutions has not yet released its decision on that case.


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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Iqalummiu on

    So the cops are getting away with it cause there was no one there to take care of her…

  2. Posted by clarification on

    What does a “civilian officer mean”
    Was that person trained for the situation at hand?
    Perhaps there is no criminal charge for the officers, but can the police force do better in managing certain situations?

  3. Posted by It’s the booze on

    I’m not going to cry wolf here, but it’s the booze that is causing theses premature death in the community, not the police or their partners. When will people start owning this problem as the people that abuse alcohol problem, wake up.

  4. Posted by Who’s gets blessed with alcohol, then what ? on

    We can blame the police, the coop, the whiteman, the religion, the weather, the trauma, the wife , the husband and the kids, but then what? Do we keep drinking and keep blaming , or do we get help? Do you mean, when blaming, that there are more out there just destined to die ? This is not acceptable, and it’s only going to get better when people start acknowledging that it’s their own blame, no one else.


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