When Chantal Pantalone didn’t hear from her daughter Stephanie on the morning of June 19, 2019, she immediately became alarmed; the two were in constant contact. Within a day, her worst fears were concerned—her daughter was dead, having fallen from her fifth floor balcony during a police raid.
Now, nearly a year and a half later, Pantalone still has very few answers.
“I have never to this day, 483 days, I have never had a call from Calgary (police),” she said.
In its initial press release, Calgary police said officers surrounded the apartment and encouraged Stephanie Pantalone, 30, to surrender in the course of executing a “high-risk” drug-related warrant.
“At some point, the woman went over the balcony railing and was found critically injured on the ground below the apartment’s fifth floor balcony. Officers immediately applied emergency first aid and she was transported to hospital where she died shortly thereafter,” the release said. “Officers had no physical interaction with the woman.”
Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates when people die during police interactions, has taken over the investigation. All officers involved were considered witnesses and remain on active duty.
But Pantalone doesn’t believe her daughter, who had a crippling fear of heights and was used to run-ins with police, would jump.
“How my child ends up dead at the end of this is extremely fucking questionable,” Pantalone told VICE News. “She had no reason to run.”
The case puts a spotlight on how police conduct themselves when executing raids—and how hard it is to get any information from authorities when your loved one is killed.
Recently, Ottawa man Anthony Aust, 23, died after falling from his bedroom window during an aggressive police raid; a dozen cops burst into his home and set off a flash grenade, rifles raised.
In May, Regis Korchinsky-Paquet, 29, died after falling from her 24th-floor apartment balcony. Korchinsky-Paquet’s family had called police because she was experiencing mental health issues. The investigation concluded in August—taking around three months. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit cleared all five officers who attended the call of any wrongdoing.
Both Calgary police and ASIRT told VICE News they could not comment on any specifics about Stephanie’s death as the matter is still under investigation.
ASIRT’s initial statement said, “Evidence from both police and civilians suggests that the woman was alone on the balcony at all times before she was ultimately found on the ground below, and that police had not gained entry into the suite.”
In an email, Sue Hughson, executive director of ASIRT, said its press releases are based on “independent civilian witness evidence” and don’t provide “any conclusion on the critical questions of whether police conduct caused or contributed to the death of a person.”
Stephanie’s autopsy report, obtained by VICE News, said police officers saw her throwing things off the apartment balcony, including a handgun, and later saw her jumping from the balcony. She had tested positive for cannabis and fentanyl.
The autopsy found Stephanie’s cause of death to be blunt force injuries and ruled it as “accidental.”
Pantalone said that doesn’t necessarily mean officers didn’t contribute to her daughter’s death.
Stephanie had moved from Ottawa to Calgary in November 2018 with Andrew Carter, a man fleeing an arrest warrant for attempted murder.
The following June, Calgary police set up a raid on the couple; Carter was wanted in connection to two local shootings and Pantalone was a person of interest. But before they could execute their search warrant, Carter exited the apartment. When he spotted police, he started texting Stephanie to warn her, and was subsequently arrested violently, Pantalone said. Initially, Carter faced 22 weapons charges.
Then cops headed to the fifth floor unit where Stephanie was still inside.
Police said they were executing a high-risk warrant—a more aggressive warrant conducted by a tactical unit—because they thought firearms would be on the premises.
This is where the details are murky. According to Pantalone, police had the Airbnb owner open the apartment, at which point they set off a percussion grenade and entered without announcing themselves. VICE News has not been able to independently verify those claims.
A neighbour living in the same complex told Pantalone and the media he heard “what sounded like an explosion.”
When Pantalone saw in the news that a woman had died in downtown Calgary following a police raid, she said she began frantically calling the city’s police department and local hospitals.
Seventeen hours later, someone from ASIRT returned her call and told her Stephanie was dead and had likely been scaling the balcony.
“How ironic is it that her entire life she is petrified of heights and she dies coming off a fucking balcony?” Pantalone said.
Pantalone said there was history between her daughter and Calgary police, as her daughter had previously lied to them to throw them off Carter’s track when she was brought in for questioning weeks earlier.
“She made them look foolish,” she said.
In April, ASIRT told Pantalone the investigation was complete, but took that statement back a week later.
Hughson said the delay “is not uncommon and is a reflection of continuing resourcing issues in the face of a continuing extraordinary workload.”
She said if the investigation concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe an officer committed a criminal offence, Alberta Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether or not to press charges and the family will be informed of the outcome.
Ottawa-based attorney Michael Spratt, who is not tied to the case but has been outspoken about police misconduct, said the delay shows a disregard for Pantalone’s family and the broader community.
“If there was no impropriety, if the police are saying it was an unavoidable tragedy that they had no role in, then the community needs to know that and needs to look at that explanation to see if we believe it,” he said.
And if there are issues in how police are conducting themselves, that needs to be scrutinized as well, he added.
Spratt said the delays in concluding investigations can also affect future court cases, should criminal charges be laid.
“Evidence doesn’t get better with time. Memories don’t get better with time,” he said.
Pantalone has retained Edmonton-based lawyer Eric Crowther to assist her with keeping track of the ASIRT investigation and potentially file a lawsuit if there are grounds for one.
Crowther told VICE News he thinks it’s unlikely the ASIRT report will be completed before the two-year statute of limitations to sue expires, in June 2021.
Pantalone said her daughter had a bright light and a big heart. She described her death as tragic.
“Stephanie was attracted to birds with broken wings who she thought she could fix,” she said. “She smoked weed and tried to save bad boys and she’s dead because of it.”
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