Inquiry details death of drug user in custody

Darryl Clarkson was channel surfing in his Chilkoot Trail hotel room when he was pulled from his room early on August 30, 2008, by shouts in the corridor. "I'm arresting you under the Mental Health Act of Canada," said one man.

Darryl Clarkson was channel surfing in his Chilkoot Trail hotel room when he was pulled from his room early on August 30, 2008, by shouts in the corridor.

“I’m arresting you under the Mental Health Act of Canada,” said one man.

“I don’t think so,” another replied.

Clarkson muted the television, which was streaming updates of the American Democratic Convention, to listen more carefully.

“Why do you have to fucking be this way?” the second man said in a frustrated tone.

Clarkson then heard a loud thud against the wall.

When he opened it, he saw a large man laying facedown in the hallway with his arms beneath him.

Two police officers – one male, one female – were on the ground at his side, trying to gain control of his hands. The female officer kept repeating to the man on the ground, “stop resisting.”

Seeing that the officers were having difficulty restraining the man on the ground, Clarkson offered to help “break the impasse.”

Clarkson was one of six people who testified Tuesday at a week-long inquiry into the death of Grant McLeod.

The coroner’s inquest is presided over by a six-person jury. Such an inquiry is required whenever a person dies in police custody.

Clarkson, a husky man, had to kneel and use both arms to grab the man’s left hand.

Then four more police arrived, and amid the “cloud of officers” Clarkson couldn’t see what was going on.

Shortly after, he saw the large man, who looked “in between limp and rigid,” carried down the hotel stairs by several officers.

After being handcuffed by police, McLeod went into medical distress as emergency medical services were on en route to the scene.

He was pronounced dead at the Whitehorse General Hospital

An autopsy ruled the 39-year-old McLeod died from a cocaine overdose.

Testimony from three separate RCMP officers yesterday established that police were initially called to the Chilkoot Trail Inn after a night clerk saw a large man staggering around the hotel lobby with a hypodermic needle in his hand.

Constables Jason MacDonald and Terra Taylor were first on the scene, finding the night clerk “shuttered” into her lobby desk while a broad-shouldered man, looking “disheveled” and wearing only one runner, stood on the stairs nearby.

The police officers approached McLeod, encouraging him to speak, said MacDonald during the inquiry.

McLeod ignored the request and went up the stairs, so MacDonald and Taylor followed him down the second-floor hallway.

McLeod was “grimacing and flailing his head back and forth,” said MacDonald.

When MacDonald shouted, “Police!” McLeod didn’t respond.

He only muttered, “‘The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,’” said MacDonald, who decided to arrest McLeod under the Canadian Mental Health Act, which allows a police officer to take a person into custody who may be a harm to themselves or to other people.

Resisting the arrest and demonstrating “abnormal” strength, MacDonald and Taylor fell to the ground trying to restrain McLeod, prompting the officers to call in a “1033,” the most urgent request an officer can make for backup.

“We were losing control of the male and were fearful of being overpowered by (him),” said MacDonald.

It took three additional officers to pin McLeod and handcuff him. At that point MacDonald decided to remove McLeod’s pants to search for needles.

It took four officers to carry McLeod down the hallway, his face “all white” and “looking dead,” said Rick Wiebe, who saw the incident from his hotel room.

The inquiry continues until Friday and will include testimonies from more police officers, witnesses and emergency medical staff.

The inquiry isn’t meant to assign blame. Its purpose is to uncover facts related to the death and suggest ways of preventing similar deaths in the future.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com