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Inquiry into Native teen's death hears admission
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A retired police officer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on Friday admitted he was disciplined three decades ago for leaving a man on the outskirts of town.

Bruce Bolton testified before the inquiry into the death of Neil Stonechild, 17, a Native teen who was found frozen to death in a remote area of Saskatoon in 1990. Many in the Native community suspect police involvement.

Bolton, a senior sergeant in charge of cases during Stonechild's death, confirmed that he drove an unidentified man to the edge of town "approximately 35 years ago." The man was reported to have been causing trouble at a hospital and would ask police for a ride home. Instead, Bolton admitted that he left the man alone at night.

The unidentified man was not Native, Bolton testified. But even after he was disciplined for his behavior, he told the Stonechild inquiry that he doesn't remember whether the police department instituted any policies to prevent future occurrences.

"I don't recall whether anything changed," he said.

And when asked why he dropped the man off, he couldn't explain. "I've thought about that for a long time," he said. "I don't know. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Bolton's disciplinary action was well-known among police officers, according to lawyers and the testimony on Friday. But to the public, it is another stunning revelation in the police department's rocky and racially-charged relationship with the Native community.

In the past 15 years, several Native men have been found dead in Saskatoon. Stonechild, who was Cree, is the youngest documented case. His death was officially ruled an accident by the police.

Stonechild's family and Native leaders have refused to accept the explanation and say there is a history of police brutality against Natives. Their doubts were reinforced when Darrell Night, a Native man, came forward in early 2000 and accused two officers of abandoning him in sub-zero temperature at the edge of town.

The officers, who are white, admitted to the crime and were sentenced to eight months in jail this past March. Their offense was unlawful detainment.

Those who may be responsible for Stonechild's death will not face charges as a result of the ongoing inquiry, which resumes testimony today. The head office of the Public Prosecutions Division in Saskatchewan, which is handling the inquiry, has already determined there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone. The inquiry instead will issue a report and recommendations.

So far, the inquiry has heard testimony that doesn't put the police department in a favorable light. Many notes, documents and other records of the original investigation have gone missing. Former police officers responsible for the handling of the case have acknowledged it was performed shoddily.

"I don't even like to use that word 'racism' but, you know, I think race had a factor -- or was a factor in this investigation," testified Ernie Louttit, a constable, on Thursday. "Given the totality of all that transpired, yeah, I do" think racism was an issue, he said.

The significant witness so far has been Jason Roy, who was with Stonechild the night he went missing. Roy told the inquiry that he last saw his friend in the back of police cruiser, pleading "These guys are going to kill me." Stonechild was found in a field several days later.

Stonechild died with bruises all over his body. The inquiry was shown autopsy photos of the injuries. A coroner testified that the injuries were not life-threatening but the police at the time offered no explanation.

Friends and family testified in the early part of the inquiry. The current and latter part focuses on the police. Several more officers are scheduled to appear this week and the next week. Lawyers from the Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations are among those who question the witnesses.

The inquiry commission released transcripts of the proceedings daily. They can be found at http://www.cvreporting.com/StonechildTranscripts.htm.

Relevant Links:
Stonechild Inquiry - http://www.stonechildinquiry.ca
Starlight Tours, from the CBC - http://cbc.ca/national/magazine/starlight/index.html

Related Stories:
Witness denied standing for inquiry into teen's death (10/09)
Inquiry into Native teen's death resumes in Sask. (10/7)
Sask. police to testify about Native teen's death (09/29)
Ex-officer admits to limited probe of teen's death (09/25)
Police officers testify on Native teen's death (9/24)
Priest says inquiry witness fear justified (09/19)
Inquiry into Native teen's death shown photos (9/18)
Police lawyers try to discredit inquiry witness (9/15)
Witness in inquiry of Native teen's death scrutinized (9/12)
Witness says he went to police about teen's death (9/11)
Witness says Native teen last seen with police (9/10)
Inquiry into death of Native teen opens in Sask. (9/9)
Sask. panel holding hearings on death of Native teen (9/8)
Police chief admits Natives were abandoned (06/10)
Native family wants inquiry into son's death (6/9)
Native author documents police brutality case (05/06)
White cops report to jail for brutality incident (03/14)
Death of Aboriginal man to be investigated (02/20)
Can. court hears appeal of convicted cops (01/21)
Former cops appeal conviction (12/10)
White cops denied Native justice (12/4)
White cops want Native justice (10/31)
Officers found guilty for abandoning Native man(9/21)
Officers admit abandoning Native man (9/19)
All-white jury selected for Sask. officers (9/11)
Hearing held for accused cop (9/12)
Racial tensions rise over police harassment (5/04)
First Nations say police charges don't go far enough (4/13)
Officers charged in Saskatoon (4/12)

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