Man dies as police watchdog investigates

A Smithers man who became unconscious shortly after he was arrested by Smithers RCMP on Valentine’s Day died in hospital on Feb. 21.

A 53-year-old Smithers man who became unconscious shortly after he was arrested by Smithers RCMP on Valentine’s Day died in hospital on Feb. 21.

Jacobus Jonker, who was arrested at a Smithers residence at about 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, had told police he was having difficulty breathing before he lost consciousness while in custody.

Investigators from the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. were in Smithers last week conducting interviews about the incident.

In a statement released on Monday, the IIOBC said police arrested the man after they were called to a complaint at a local residence.

“According to police, officers located the affected person; he appeared distraught, in emotional distress and did not comply with officers’ commands,” said the IIOBC.

The man was pepper-sprayed to assist with the arrest before reporting he was having difficulty breathing.

Police called emergency health services and, after the man was assessed, he was cleared to be transported to police cells.

“While being booked into cells, the affected person reportedly became unco-operative and a physical struggle took place,” said the IIOBC.

“The affected person lost consciousness.”

Jonker was originally transported to Bulkley Valley General Hospital but was later transferred to Victoria General Hospital for a higher level of care. He died there on Feb. 21.

IIOBC was notified of the incident about an hour after it took place.

Its primary investigator and another investigator were in Smithers last week to conduct interviews with civilians and police and collect information such as paramedic crew reports and radio transmissions.

A family support worker travelled with them.

An IIOBC spokesperson said there would be no forensic investigation because there was no “scene” to examine.

Both IIOBC and the B.C. Coroners Service are investigating his death.

The mandate of the IIO is to investigate whether any offences under the Criminal Code may have been committed by the police officers involved.

The B.C. Coroners Service said its investigation would be broader.

“The Coroner’s investigation may look at the events which led up to the final fatal outcome and whether there are reasonable and practical recommendations that could be made which might prevent future deaths in similar circumstances,” said a statement from the service.