Saskatchewan

Coroner's inquest focuses on how police failed to find gun on prisoner who later shot self in cell

The coroner's inquest into the death of Jeremy Sabourin continued in Moose Jaw on Tuesday.

RCMP officer testifies Jeremy Sabourin was searched 3 times, but not with metal detector

A stonework building is shown. "Moose Jaw Police Service 1985" is displayed on the front of the building.
The conduct of the Moose Jaw Police Service is one of the central focuses in the coroner's inquest into the death of Jeremy Sabourin, who fatally shot himself while in a cell. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains description of a death by suicide.

A Saskatchewan coroner's inquest into the death of Jeremy Sabourin has focused on one question: how was a 40-year-old man able to smuggle a gun into police cells? 

Sabourin was 40 years old on Oct. 7, 2021, when he used that weapon to kill himself in a cell at the Moose Jaw Police Service station.

Now, coroner Blaine Beaven has been empanelled a six-person jury in Moose Jaw, located approximately 70 kilometres west of Regina. 

Coroner's juries are asked to determine how, when and where a person died. The jury can also make recommendations on how similar incidents can be avoided in the future.

So far, the testimony at the inquest has focused on the potential reasons police failed to detect the small five-shot revolver that Sabourin was carrying in a concealed holster on the inside of his right thigh. 

Rod Zoerb was a member of the Moose Jaw Police Service at the time of the incident. He's now a trainer at the Saskatchewan Police College, including instructing students on how to search suspects while they are on custody. 

On Tuesday, Zoerb rejected the notion that the searches performed by police were thorough. 

"If you missed a loaded firearm when searching someone, it was not a thorough search," said Zoerb.

RCMP officer recounts arrest and searches

RCMP Const. Paisley Armstrong testified Tuesday about Sabourin's arrest in Assiniboia, Sask., on Oct. 7, located about 100 kilometres south of Moose Jaw. 

The jury has heard Sabourin was accused of sexual assault and a warrant had been issued in connection with that in December 2020.

Armstrong testified that police had been searching for Sabourin for several months before the arrest.

A man in a tan jacket holds a fishing road while looking back at the camera.
Jeremy Sabourin is shown fishing in an undated photograph. (Ross Funeral Service)

Armstrong testified that Sabourin was searched three times by RCMP officers with the Assiniboia RCMP detachment: once when he was arrested, another time when he was taken back to the RCMP's Assiniboia detachment and a third time when Sabourin was going to be transported to Moose Jaw. 

None of the searches found the gun.

The searches were physical, but no metal detecting wand was used, Armstrong said. 

Although the RCMP did have a requirement for prisoners to be scanned with a metal detecting wand, multiple officers with the Assiniboia detachment testified they were not aware of the policy in 2021.

Another RCMP officer, Cpl. Mark Dijkstra, testified Tuesday that it was not until March 2022 that RCMP officers in Saskatchewan received clarifying guidance requiring every prisoner to be scanned using a metal detecting wand.

In her testimony, Armstrong reported that during the months-long search for Sabourin she was informed that he was an avid sports shooter and was the type of person who would carry a firearm in a vehicle or on his person.

Armstrong also testified about how RCMP searched Sabourin's home and the home of his parents after Sabourin informed them that he had restricted firearms.

WATCH | Inquest into Sask. man's self-inflicted gunshot wound death in police cell gets underway:

Inquest into Sask. man's self-inflicted gunshot wound death in police cell gets underway

1 month ago
Duration 2:01
Jeremy Sabourin shot himself while he was in the custody of Moose Jaw Police Service, according to testimony heard Monday morning.

Although the revolver was not initially on the list of weapons provided to RCMP, Sabourin's parents informed investigators about him owning it.

Armstrong testified that RCMP came to the conclusion that the weapon was either located in a secure, locked safe they did not have the code for or was somewhere else, potentially in Sabourin's vehicle, where they had located another handgun in plain sight. 

Failure to search

Chris Flanagan, who was a staff sergeant with the Moose Jaw Police Service in October 2021, testified on Monday that  RCMP brought Sabourin to Moose Jaw.

Flanagan said an RCMP officer transporting Sabourin reported that the prisoner had been searched. Flanagan said he took the Mountie at his word and did not physically search Sabourin, despite there being a policy requiring him to do so.

Sabourin shot himself on Oct. 7, after refusing to attend court.

Flanagan would ultimately be punished for his role in Sabourin's death by being demoted from staff sergeant, the highest-ranking operational role in the Moose Jaw force, to constable, the lowest rank.

Braelyn Hoffland, an advanced care paramedic, testified Tuesday that she arrived at the Moose Jaw Police Service headquarters and attempted chest compressions on Sabourin for about 20 minutes before declaring him dead at 9:25 a.m. CST.

Dr. Matthew Orde, a pathologist who performed the autopsy on Sabourin, testified on Tuesday that he ruled the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. 

There was no evidence that Sabourin hid a weapon, such as the firearm, in his anal cavity, Orde testified. 

A toxicological analysis found the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine in Sabourin's blood. 

The inquest is scheduled for the rest of the week. It's expected to hear from 13 witnesses.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.