Canada

Edmonton police officer apologizes to family of man who died in police custody

An Edmonton police officer choked back tears as he stood in a courtroom and apologized to the family of Trevor Proudman on Monday.

Proudman, 32, died in November 2014 after being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police van. He had a genetic disorder tied to compulsive overeating and behavioural problems.

On Nov. 12, 2014, Proudman acted out at a foot clinic. Sgt. Lael Sauter responded to a 911 call and arrested Proudman before looking into the complaints.

Sauter handcuffed the five-foot, two-inch, 250-pound Proudman behind his back and placed him in the back of a police van.

At Proudman’s fatality inquiry, Sauter testified Proudman refused to sit on the bench, so he placed the man on the floor. When he left the van, he was on his side with a bent leg.

Twenty minutes later, officers opened the van door and found Proudman on his stomach and unresponsive.

He died in hospital the next day from positional asphyxia.

Given the way he was lying with his hands behind his back, his weight, and the scoliosis of his spine, he suffocated due to the pressure on his chest cavity.

Once Sauter finished answering questions, he asked if he could speak directly to Proudman’s family, who were sitting in the courtroom.

“I’m sincerely sorry for your loss,” he said.

“I can understand completely if there’s anger. My hope is we learn from this.

“We’re learning; we’re slowly learning. Most of the time, unfortunately, we’re learning from errors.”

At one point, Sauter stopped talking and looked down while trying to compose himself. Proudman’s family then spoke: “Thank you.”

At a break, Proudman’s mother and brother spoke of the apology.

“It’s really affected him, as well,” Maureen Harland said. “He’s human.”

Dick Proudman called the apology a “belated act of contrition, but it was really nice, even this far along.”

Harland and Proudman still feel police actions that day caused Trevor’s death. They hope the fatality inquiry makes recommendations that prevent other similar deaths.

“They can’t use just a blanket approach for every possible interaction with the public that they have,” Dick Proudman said.

Police have made some protocol changes since Proudman’s death, including that officers can no longer leave anyone alone while in custody.

Proudman’s family would like to see more, such as additional mental-health training.

As important as this hearing is to Harland and Proudman, watching it takes a toll.

“I’ve kind of pushed the painful parts away,” Harland said. “It’s kind of just bringing it all up again.”

Proudman added he hopes this will be the end.

“And we can kind of close that chapter and move on,” he said.

After Trevor’s death, Edmonton police investigated and concluded no criminal charges were warranted.

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