Report says Sask. police officers failed during domestic violence response hours before infant's death

The Public Complaints Commission, which investigates and reviews complaints against municipal police services, has released its report on how police responded to a call for help in the hours before Tanner Brass's death.  (Submitted by FSIN - image credit)
The Public Complaints Commission, which investigates and reviews complaints against municipal police services, has released its report on how police responded to a call for help in the hours before Tanner Brass's death. (Submitted by FSIN - image credit)

Police officers in Prince Albert, Sask., failed to conduct a proper investigation into a domestic violence situation that involved a vulnerable and unprotected baby, and the baby was found dead hours later, according to a newly released independent report by Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission (PCC).

The report, which examines what happened in the hours leading up to 13-month-old Tanner Brass's death, details the officers' neglect of duty.

The commission's findings, released Thursday, rely on evidence from the responding officers, in-car video recordings, audio recording of a 911 call, dispatch records, cellphone records, CCTV recordings, autopsy reports, policy documents and other elements.

The Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) requested an investigation because of concerns that officers' actions — or inaction — resulted in the death.

Tanner was found dead in his home in February 2022, about five hours after police officers were dispatched to that home in response to a domestic dispute.

The PCC created a timeline of what transpired in the hours before Tanner's death.

It says that Tanner's mother, Kyla Frenchman, was assaulted by Kaij Brass, the baby's father, during an argument on the evening of Feb. 9, 2022, according to investigators.

Frenchman left the home, returning around 4:30 a.m. CST. Frenchman later told investigators that Kaij appeared intoxicated and had blood on him.

Frenchman called 911 at 5:44 a.m. CST using a neighbour's phone. She told the operator that Kaij was intoxicated and had assaulted her when she tried to get her baby and belongings.

She said the baby was in the home with Kaij, and became emotional when the operator asked if she was concerned Kaij would hurt the baby. Frenchman said "he already does" and that he, "hits him ... he hits him when he puts him to bed."

Frenchman previously told CBC that before Tanner died, he was a happy little boy who loved watching Blue's Clues, dancing and taking baths.

Officers didn't check on baby

Two police officers were sent to the home with the information that Kaij had assaulted Frenchman and that she feared for her baby's safety. Frenchman met them outside the home.

The officers were outside the home for 13 minutes. Neither officer attempted to check on the well-being of the baby. Both claim that Frenchman did not mention any concerns about the child's safety at the scene.

It's not clear if they asked about the child's safety, even though they knew about the concerns raised during the 911 call, according to the report. They did not enter the home.

"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," the report states. "This was neglect of duty ... failing to conduct a proper investigation of a domestic violence situation despite the presence of a vulnerable and unprotected infant."

Jason Warick/CBC
Jason Warick/CBC

According to the report, Frenchman told police that Kaij was intoxicated and had pushed her down the steps, but said she wasn't hurt. She said she wanted to get her baby and wait for a ride to go to La Ronge, Sask.

One of the officers told her that she couldn't stay out in the cold with a child waiting for a ride, according to the report, to which she replied that the home was in Kaij's name.

The police officers knocked on the door, but Kaij refused to open and spoke through the window instead. Officers said he did not appear intoxicated and that they didn't think they had grounds to arrest him or enter the property.

The report says the officers should have entered the home to ensure the safety of the baby, and did not need a warrant or permission to enter.

They had authority "under the common law duty to preserve life," and also would have been justified in helping Frenchman collect her belongings and the baby.

Failure to follow policy on intimate partner violence

The officers also failed to follow PAPS's intimate partner violence (IPV) policy, which requires members attending an IPV call to "ensure the immediate safety of the complainant and any children who may be present."

A review of call records showed that neither officer made any calls requesting additional assistance regarding the safety of the baby. They didn't collect information about Kaij's alleged intoxication or whether he was safe to be alone with the baby.

They said they tried to find somewhere safe for Frenchman to stay, but that local women's shelters were full and not taking new clients.

The officers believed the baby "would be safer in the warmth of the house with his father, than outside in the cold waiting for a ride." They brought Frenchman to police cells.

Frenchman previously told CBC that she was arrested for intoxication, handcuffed and arrested. She also said that — while outside the home and in a cell — she frantically demanded the officers enter the home to check on her baby.

The report says video recordings do not show Frenchman in handcuffs in the police vehicle or at the detachment. It also says that video and audio recordings from the car and the detachment do not provide evidence of her begging police to help her baby.

Officers say they told Frenchman that they could take her to cells if she needed somewhere warm and safe to go for a few hours.

They said it was understood that she was sober, but that they could say she was intoxicated on their report. According to the report, she was agreeable with this idea and appeared calm. The report also says that she spoke with a sergeant at the cells, confirming that she wasn't intoxicated and just needed a place to stay.

Frenchman was released from cells around 9:07 a.m. CST.

At 10:45 a.m. CST, police dispatch received a call from a man who said he had killed his baby. Officers arrested Kaij after finding Tanner dead inside the home.

Kaij is charged with second-degree murder. None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The PCC investigation was forwarded to Public Prosecutions for review. The Crown did not recommend a criminal charge against the police officers.

FSIN calls for accountability

After the report was released on Thursday, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents Saskatchewan's First Nations, called for more accountability, a coroner's Inquest into the infant's death, and immediate intervention from the Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety regarding the police service.

"The PAPS has failed to serve our First Nations people, especially our most vulnerable. What we need now is accountability and action to address the profound racism and discrimination First Nations people experience daily at the hands of police in Saskatchewan," said  FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a news release.

"Though we demand that the officers be held criminally accountable for their failure to prevent the death of Baby Tanner, systemic racism and neglect must be addressed from the top down."

The FSIN has scheduled a news conference for Friday, with Frenchman and her lawyer Eleanore Sunchild to attend.

Police chief resigns

Prince Albert Police Service
Prince Albert Police Service

PAPS Chief Jonathan Bergen announced his resignation Thursday afternoon, hours after the report's release.

In a statement, Bergen said his decision to suspend the two officers involved during the PCC investigation drew heavy criticism.

"Leadership with integrity often calls for hard personal decisions. These decisions have been personally difficult for me, as have other decisions that I have made that have motivated a very persistent and extraordinary assault on my character, harassment of my family, and criticism of members of my executive team over the past three years," he said.

The PCC's report had been handed off to Bergen for "the imposition of any discipline that may be appropriate."

"The circumstances of the attacks on my family leave me in a position that, if I were to accept the responsibilities on me as Chief of Police under the Investigation Report released today — to discipline members, or to further investigate supervising members — it could be misrepresented as biased and influenced by the manner in which my family has been treated," his statement said.

Bergen said PAPS had arranged with the Saskatoon Police Service for an interim chief to be appointed to Prince Albert. He did not say who the interim chief would be.

"In the coming days, I will assist in this transition of leadership with further details to soon be announced on the secondment," his statement said.