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Olando Brown inquest opens with testimony from police sergeant

'I feel for Olando Brown. I had known him for about 10 years. He was always pleasant with us, joked around,' says Barrie police sergeant
Olando Brown is shown in a family photo. Brown died in June 2018 while in police custody after authorities said he attempted to swallow two drug-filled, 'golf ball-sized' plastic bags.

An inquest into the 2018 death of a Barrie man while in police custody got underway Monday with testimony from officers and paramedics who were there that summer day. 

Olando Brown, 32, died June 22, 2018 while in the custody of the Barrie Police Service. An inquest into his death is mandatory under the Coroners Act.

The coroner’s inquest is being conducted by video conference, with Dr. Richard McLean as the presiding officer and John Rinaldi as inquest counsel.

The inquest, which is expected to last five days and hear from seven witnesses, will examine the circumstances surrounding Brown's death. The jury can then make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths.

The Coroners Act requires the jury to answer specific questions, including who the deceased was as well as how and where they died. The scope of the inquest, however, excludes the use of conductive energy weapons (commonly known as Tasers or stun guns) and the care delivered at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie.

The Brown inquest opened March 4 with cross-examinations of witnesses, including Barrie police Sgt. Bill Grant, who was involved in the initial arrest as well as accompanying Brown at the police station during booking and the strip search when he died.

The next witness was retired police officer Linda Moorhouse, who was the staff sergeant on duty at the Sperling Drive police station at the time.

There was also what is referred to as “will say” evidence presented at the inquest. These were written statements read into the public record and involved timeline evidence involving Mark Hankin who, at the time, was a detective constable with Barrie police. Hankin later resigned from the service.

Testimony was also read aloud from paramedics Caricato Di Nardo and Richard Miller.

Grant testified that he suspected Brown was dealing drugs that day in June 2018. He located Brown downtown and arrested him on an outstanding warrant for assault. Grant, who was assisted by three other officers, described a “brutal struggle” while trying to arrest Brown.

“We did end up getting control of Mr. Brown," he added. 

A stun gun was used on Brown. With the prongs still embedded in Brown’s back at the police station during booking, Grant said he found him to be “calm and collected” and responsive to their questions.

Grant stated Brown had a history of trafficking drugs. A full body search was requested in case he was hiding drugs. The sergeant reiterated there was “no complaint of suffering” at the time from Brown.

After paramedics removed the prongs and checked Brown's vital signs, he was escorted down a short hallway to the station’s breath-testing room, which was used to conduct the strip search, according to Grant.

Grant, Hankin and Brown were inside the room and conducting the search with the door closed, but not locked. A surveillance camera was covered, but with audio recording the scene.

It was during this time that Brown, who was uncuffed, was warned about any “funny business” by Grant.

Partway through the search, Grant told Brown to “stop fidgeting” as he saw his hands move toward his groin.

Grant then described the moment Brown pulled a package from his rectal area and “jammed it in deep, deep, deep” with his hand “deep in his mouth.”

“I was concerned he was going to die,” Grant told the inquest.

The sergeant testified he grabbed Brown’s throat, yelling “spit it out, spit it out, spit it out!”

Grant said the two officers struggled with Brown for 45 seconds.

As the struggle was occurring and in an effort to convince him to stop, Grant said he yelled out, “it’s just an obstruct charge, spit it out, take the charge!” 

Grant described Brown as “tensing up" and "not saying anything” during the struggle.

It was soon after when they realized Brown had stopped moving and had no vital signs.

Hankin began performing the Heimlich manoeuvre to try and free Brown’s airway. They followed up with CPR while he was on the floor in the doorway.

Paramedics were called and they took over efforts to revive Brown, Grant testified.

After Brown was taken away, Grant said he was sent to another room at the station to wait as he was told the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) were being called in.

When asked about the scene and how it unfolded, Grant stated it was “organized chaos."

“We did everything that we were trained to do," he said, including calling paramedics and Barrie Fire. "They came and responded, and they did everything they were shown to do, I believe."

Grant also testified that he had known Brown for several years prior to that day. 

“I feel for Olando Brown," the sergeant said. "I had known him for about 10 years. He was always pleasant with us, joked around.

“I feel so terrible of the loss for his family and loved ones. It’s terrible. But he did choose this himself,” Grant added.

Grant also testified about his own mental health following Brown's death, as well as others who were there. 

"Mark Hankin is no longer on the job. He resigned. Did he resign because of this? I think so," Grant said. "The way this was reported the first couple of weeks, that we Tasered him to death and it was nothing like that."

Grant says he received help in the aftermath of Brown's death.

“I went for my own assessment. Everything is good now, but it isn’t great, still," he testified. “I will carry (this) forever and they will carry (this) forever."

As previously reported, Brown had an outstanding arrest warrant for assault, and had been placed in custody less than two hours before his death that day in June 2018.

During a struggle with police, officers used a stun gun on Brown on four occasions for an elapsed time of 21 seconds at the Five Points in downtown Barrie during his arrest, which was caught on video.

In 2019, the SIU said Brown's cause of death was determined to be an airway obstruction after he pulled two drug-filled, "golf ball-sized" plastic bags from his rectal area and attempted to swallow them during a search at police headquarters, which at that time was located on Sperling Drive.

Health Canada later determined the bags contained heroin, fentanyl, caffeine and the painkiller dimethylsulphone, although they did not contribute to Brown's death because the substances did not enter his bloodstream, according to the report.

The SIU's report determined no criminal charges would be laid against the city police officers who were involved in Brown's arrest.

Following Brown's arrest, he was examined by paramedics at the police station and found to be in good health. They removed the stun-gun probes from his shoulder and left the building.

Brown was then taken to another room with two officers for a strip search. To protect his privacy, the SIU says the video equipment was disabled, which is in compliance with Barrie police policy for such searches, while the audio continued to record.

The SIU said Brown "suddenly" removed objects from his rectal area and placed them in his mouth. The officers tried to remove them, but were unsuccessful.

Not long after, Brown went into medical distress. Officers performed CPR and the paramedics, who were still in the parking lot, were called back inside.

Brown was found without vital signs and attempts were made to save his life. He was rushed to hospital where two balloons were removed from his throat.

After some time spent trying to resuscitate him, Brown was pronounced dead.

The three primary functions of an inquest include establishing the facts, focusing community attention on preventable deaths and enhancing public safety, and satisfying the community that "no death will be overlooked, concealed or ignored," McLean said.

“It’s important to remember that the reason we are here today is to try and to prevent and reduce the risk of further deaths, and to not assign blame to parties or individuals," he added.

After the conclusion of the inquest, the recommendations will be provided to the province's chief coroner, who will then bring them forward to the appropriate bodies for consideration and implementation where possible.

The inquest continues Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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