Saskatchewan police chief retires after report finds neglect of duty in child death

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PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — A Saskatchewan police chief says he is retiring after a report found officers who responded to a domestic violence call didn’t check on the well-being of a toddler in the hours before the child was killed.

Chief Jonathan Bergen of the Prince Albert Police Service issued a statement Thursday saying the move is in the best interest of the department and the city.

Bergen said he has always held himself accountable for his decisions and been open to scrutiny.

"What I did not expect from my service and the community I trust and value, is the level of aggressive personal attack and contrived character assassination of me and my leadership team, and the cruel and misdirected emotional assault on my family, orchestrated by a select few

"Largely the attacks have been cowardly and anonymous. For much of the last three years, it has been very public and relentless."

The service has been criticized for several incidents in the last few years, with one of them being the killing of 13-month-old Tanner Brass.

The Public Complaints Commission report into the death of the boy, released earlier Thursday, says two officers neglected their duty in the case.

The boy's father, Kaij Brass, has been charged with second-degree murder and his trial is scheduled for next year.

“The circumstances on the morning of Feb. 10, 2022, amount to a tragic and potentially avoidable incident,” the report found. “(Tanner) was, at all relevant times, vulnerable and in danger while inside the residence with (his father).”

Kyla Frenchman, the toddler’s mother, has demanded the officers be fired, alleging she was racially profiled when she called for help. The report found she went willingly to a police station with the officers because women’s shelters were full and there was nowhere warm for her to go.

Her son was left with his father and killed.

The report says Frenchman had called 911 early on the cold winter morning after she walked to an RCMP facility that was closed. She told 911 that her child’s father was intoxicated and had assaulted her.

When asked if she was concerned about the child's safety, the report says the mother became emotional and alleged “he hits him when he puts him to bed.”

The two officers arrived six minutes later and spoke with the mother outside the home. She told them the father was intoxicated and had pushed her down some steps.

Frenchman told police she just wanted to get her son and her clothes and wait for a ride to come from La Ronge, more than 200 kilometres north of the city, the report says.

The officers went to the front door and the father came to the window but refused to open the door. Officers later said that they believed he didn’t appear intoxicated and the mother didn’t want to pursue an assault investigation.

The officers determined they had no authority to enter the home or grounds to arrest the father, the report says. They were outside the house for 13 minutes and did not attempt to check on the child.

That was a failure of protocol, the report found. The officers had the authority to enter the home and would have been justified in helping the mother retrieve her belongings and the boy.

The officers also failed to follow the force’s intimate partner violence policy, which requires members “ensure the immediate safety of the complainant and any children who may be present," the report says.

Five hours after the mother called for help, the report says, a man called 911 indicating he had killed his baby.

“The totality of the circumstances demonstrates a series of compounded failures by (the officers) when they had a legal duty to investigate the 911 call by (the mother),” the report says.

The report also notes that the officers didn’t take any information regarding the father’s level of intoxication and whether it was safe for the man to be alone with the toddler.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has alleged the officers racially profiled Frenchman and accused her of being drunk.

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron called for the officers to be held criminally accountable "for their failure to prevent the death of Baby Tanner."

The commission’s report says officers were aware the mother was sober but there was no place for her to go. They said she could spend a few hours at the detention centre and she agreed.

Videos from the police car and the detention centre show the mother was not handcuffed and she rested once she was placed in the cell, the report says.

The commission says the force doesn’t have a policy for lodging sober, consenting people in cells, and that places officers in a difficult position when encountering people with nowhere to go and no safe alternatives.

“Officers must either bring sober, consenting persons to cells or leave the person to fend for themselves in the harsh winter,” the report says.

Michelle Ouellette, the commission chair, said the findings were submitted to the police chief to impose appropriate discipline.

Bergen said for the "sake of integrity" any discipline must be handled by a new police chief.

Last year, the Saskatchewan government appointed a former Edmonton police chief to conduct an independent review of the force following the child's death.

The review has been completed but Saskatchewan’s public safety minister has not said whether it will be publicly released.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

The Canadian Press