The jury in the coroner’s inquest examining the death of Emmanuel Oruitemeka while in police custody heard testimony from the paramedic who arrived on the scene, who said officers did what they understood needed to be done, while an OPP in-service training officer provided details of police first-aid training
THUNDER BAY — The advanced care paramedic who treated 25-year-old Emmanuel Oruitemeka said officers acted in accordance with their first-aid training, but some actions differ from provincial police training policies.
Jeff Monas, an advanced care paramedic with Superior North EMS, continued his testimony on Tuesday in the coroner’s inquest examining the circumstances of Oruitemeka’s death in February 2014.
Oruitemeka was arrested the afternoon of Feb. 12, 2014 for a possible weapons incident in the Trillium Way area.
After being transported to the Thunder Bay Police Service Balmoral Street headquarters, he became unresponsive in the sally port and booking area. Paramedics were called and Oruitemeka was transported to hospital where he died four days later.
According to a post-mortem examination, Oruitemeka died from a lack of oxygen to the brain as a result of a cardiac collapse likely caused by the ingestion of cocaine.
The inquest jury viewed surveillance footage from inside the police headquarters that showed Oruitemeka being dragged into the booking area and left face down for several minutes while two officers searched him and removed his shirt and pants.
Officers then tried to load Oruitemeka into a police cruiser to be transported to the hospital but were unable. He was then left on the floor of the sally port in a recovery position until paramedics arrived.
Monas was one of the responding paramedics to the scene and it was determined that Oruitemeka was vital signs absent.
According to earlier testimony, officers in the area said they observed Oruitemeka breathing and his eyes fluttering.
On Monday, Monas testified that Oruitemeka was exhibiting agonal breathing, which is a response of the brain to try to get oxygen but is not considered adequate breathing.
When it was determined Oruitemeka was vital signs absent, Monas said there was a sense of surprise by the officers in the area.
“He was dumbfounded. That is the word I would use,” Monas said of one of the officers.
“He is asking: what can I do to help. He is almost apologetic. ‘I dropped you into this Jeff, now what can I do to help. I dropped you into this because I did not know it was this.’”
Monas added that he was not surprised that CPR was not administered by the officers in the area, saying most who complete first-aid training courses may not be able to recognize something like agonal breathing and could mistake it for adequate or normal breathing.
“These people are devastated and think they should have done something and that’s what this is,” he said.
Regarding the situation involving Oruitemeka, Monas said officers observed his eyes open and that he was breathing, although not breathing adequately.
“To what they understand should have been done in this case was done,” he said. “The things that weren’t done I think were just a little next level difficulty. What I do is high quality patient care. To expect anybody else to do that, that is like me pretending I’m a carpenter when I’m not.”
Also called to testify on Tuesday was Const. Shawn Lockett with the Ontario Provincial Police. Lockett is currently serving as the in-service training instructor for the OPP out of Orillia.
Lockett took the jury through training policies for OPP officers, including scene surveys and checking for hemorrhaging, circulation, airways, and breathing.
“The onus is on the officer to recognize anything out of the ordinary and address that issue,” Lockett said.
“If I am not detecting breathing or skin colour is off or body temperature is off, then I may lay the person on their back and start compressions. If I deem they are breathing adequately and normally, I will place them in the recovery position and wait for EMS to arrive.”
Placing someone in distress on their stomach is not advised as the pressure on the diaphragm by the weight of the body may make it impossible to breathe. Oruitemeka was left on his stomach for approximately five minutes in the booking area after being taken out of the police cruiser.
A recovery position allows for the airway to remain unobstructed.
“if I deem they are getting enough air and functioning as they should be I will keep them in the recovery position and monitor them,” Lockett said. “If their status changes I will change my approach.”
Lockett was also asked about a condition known as excited delirium, during which an individual may exhibit erratic behaviour and extreme strength to be followed by sudden tranquility or becoming very docile.
Lockett said officers are trained to treat it as a medical condition no different from something like a cardiac arrest.
And while officers are trained to provide first-aid care to those in need, including individuals in custody, Lockett said fire and EMS personnel are trained to provide more advanced levels of care.
“We are a vital link in that chain of survival. But we do recognize paramedic and fire, ultimately we want them there,” he said. “We are very happy when they arrive. They will provide the next level of care that we are not trained to provide.”
Late Tuesday, former Thunder Bay interim police chief Dan Taddeo was called to testify. Taddeo was the liaison officer with the Special Investigations Unit following Oruitemeka’s death and also prepared an internal report.