Man dies in struggle with police

A 39-year-old man died shortly after a struggle with police early Saturday morning. Around 7 a.m., police responded to a call that a man was…

A 39-year-old man died shortly after a struggle with police early Saturday morning.

Around 7 a.m., police responded to a call that a man was staggering around the front lobby of the Chilkoot Trail Inn with a needle in his hand.

What followed is far from clear, and is the subject of a police investigation.

Two officers were unable to subdue the man and called for backup. More officers arrived — just how many, police would not disclose.

Nor would police say how many officers were involved in the ensuing struggle, or how long it lasted.

This much police will say: officers did not use guns, tasers or any other weapons while subduing the man.

This also is known: an hour after police arrived at the hotel, the man lay dead at Whitehorse General Hospital.

The RCMP’s major crimes unit in Vancouver has been called in to lead the investigation into the man’s death. An autopsy and coroner’s inquest have also been ordered.

All this is standard practice in cases of in-custody deaths, said Sgt. Roger Lockwood.

“The policy calls for an immediate and independent investigation,” he said.

The man had gone into “medical distress” within minutes of being handcuffed, according to an RCMP news release. In an interview, Lockwood said he could not elaborate on what this means.

The man was given emergency medical treatment at the scene and taken by ambulance to Whitehorse General Hospital, where, at around 8 a.m., he was declared dead.

Police are not disclosing the man’s name at his family’s request. They say he was known to police.

Nina Gill, owner of the Chilkoot Trail Inn, also knew the man.

He stayed as a lodger, about two years ago, for several months, she said.

She would not give his name.

The woman working at the hotel’s front desk at the time of the struggle did not want to speak publicly about what happened, Gill said.

An eyewitness, who did not want his name in the newspaper, said he awoke in his hotel room to banging and shouting.

He said he looked outside his room and saw one officer on top of the man, the other yelling at him. A needle lay on the floor nearby.

More police arrived and pinned the man’s arms and legs. By the time police had subdued the man, his body appeared lifeless, he said.

“I think [his death] was aggravated by the cops, to be completely honest. I don’t think he needed to die,” he said.

“They should have scoped it out a little better.”

“I feel sorry for both. The guy, for being dead, and the cops, for having his death on their hands.”