Two Ontario police officers are facing charges over the death of Debra Chrisjohn, after she died while in police custody, just an hour after she was taken to hospital.
Details around exactly how Chrisjohn died remain fuzzy, and the Special Investigation Unit — tasked with investigating cases of death or injury while in police custody in Ontario — has not been forthcoming.
But the circumstances around her death will likely get their day in court, as Ontario Provincial Police Const. Mark McKillop and London Police Service Const. Nicholas Doering face charges of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life, respectively.
Doering could face up to five years in jail, while McKillop faces the possibility of life in prison.
The London police were called to a neighbourhood in the east end of the city in September of 2016, where Chrisjohn was picked up by the officers. There was an outstanding warrant for her arrest, from 2013, when she had been shoplifting in attempt to pay off drug debts, her sister told the London Free Press after her death in 2016. Both are originally from Oneida Nation of the Thames, a First Nations community just outside of London.
When police arrived, the night she died, she had reportedly been obstructing traffic.
What happened after that remains a mystery, and the Special Investigations Unit is refusing to even confirm Chrisjohn’s cause of death.
The investigations unit would only say that Chrisjohn had been transferred to an OPP-run jail sometime in the afternoon of September 7. The brief summary reads that Chrisjohn was taken from the OPP detachment to a hospital shortly before 8pm.
She was pronounced dead at 8:43pm.
Cindy Chrisjohn, Debra’s sister, told the Free Press she feared the details of her sister’s death in custody would be “swept under the rug.” When she spoke with the paper, she had not been given the results of her sister’s toxicology results or been told much else about her sister’s death.
Debra, according to her sister, had a history of addiction but had recently started on methadone and was looking to get her life back together and go back to school.
Cindy has her own history with the London police. When the cops picked up Debra for shoplifting, she gave Cindy’s birthday and information before being released — when she didn’t show up for court, it led to Cindy being pulled over by police.
As the Free Press reported, the two look nothing alike — aside from their Indigenous heritage — yet police insisted that Cindy had been identified through mugshots.
Cindy launched a lawsuit accusing the police service of discrimination.