Lawyers for two RCMP officers charged in the death of Dale Culver appeared remotely at a Prince George courtroom Tuesday morning where they entered not guilty pleas. It was the officers' first appearance.
Cst. Paul Ste-Marie and Cst. Jean Francois Monette have been charged with manslaughter. At Tuesday’s court appearance, both elected to be tried by judge and jury in B.C. Supreme Court. The date for a preliminary hearing, which is expected to take about two weeks, will be set later this week.
The court appearance comes six years after Culver, who was Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan, died during an altercation with RCMP officers in downtown Prince George. The case has met with various delays, including a high case load at B.C.’s police oversight body.
The court appearance had initially been set for March and then May, but in both cases was rescheduled at the last minute.
Culver’s family has expressed frustration with the process, describing a “horrendous” and “protectionist” justice system at a news conference earlier this year.
“It’s been a pretty tough six years,” Culver’s aunt, Virginia Pierre, said in March. “There’s something wrong here. We really need justice for Dale and for other victims who died at the hands of the RCMP.”
The BC Prosecution Service announced in February that it would proceed with criminal charges against five RCMP officers involved with Culver’s death. In addition to the two manslaughter charges, three officers are charged with attempting to obstruct justice.
B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, which investigates all police incidents that result in serious harm or death, launched its investigation after Culver died on the evening of July 18, 2017. According to reports by the police watchdog, the RCMP said it responded to a call of a man “casing” parked vehicles in downtown Prince George at about 10:30 p.m. on the night Culver died.
The officers alleged that Culver attempted to flee by bike and was then pepper sprayed while being taken into custody. He collapsed and died shortly after, according to the IIO.
The IIO filed its first report to Crown prosecutors in July 2019. It suggested that police use of force and “allegations of obstruction of justice in relation to the deletion of video from a civilian phone” needed to be considered in Culver’s death.
Nearly a year later, in May 2020, the IIO announced an expanded report had also been shared with the BC Prosecution Service.
Three additional RCMP officers, Cst. Arthur Dalman, Cst. Clarence Alexander MacDonald and Sgt. Bayani Eusebio Cruz, were charged with attempting to obstruct justice. They have not yet appeared in court.
In a statement issued after Tuesday’s appearance, Culver’s cousin, Debbie Pierre, said the family travels over 800 kilometres for each scheduled court appearance. She said they were disheartened to learn that the three officers facing obstruction charges will not appear until July 25.
“We attend these hearings to see how these officers will plead, but once again we are disheartened due to the latest delay. We keep going back home without answers,” she said.
The family also said it was disappointed that lawyers for the officers accused of manslaughter appeared remotely. Lily Speed-Namox, Culver’s daughter, said she wants a formal, in-person apology from the men accused in her father’s death.
“Since day one, I have wanted to look the RCMP who killed my dad in the eyes. I want to watch them defend themselves and their decisions,” she said. “I want these RCMP officers to look me in the eye and apologize for killing my dad.”
Representatives with the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, B.C's Family Information Liaison Unit, BC Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal Society also attended Tuesday’s appearance.
The RCMP has previously said that four of the officers charged in Culver’s death remain on active duty while one officer is on administrative leave for unrelated reasons.
Dates for the pre-trial hearing will be set Thursday morning, 9:30 a.m., in Prince George. Counsel for the RCMP officers will be seeking a publication ban on evidence presented at the hearing. Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
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