Three Moose Jaw Police Service Officers and a Regina Police Service officer that investigated the in-custody death testified on the first day of a coroner’s inquest at the Moose Jaw Court of Kings Bench on Monday. 

The inquest is looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of 40-year-old Jeremy Sabourin of Assiniboia, who died following a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head from a concealed gun while in the custody of the Moose Jaw Police Service on Oct. 7, 2021. 

Const. Chris Flanagan was the first to testify. At the time of the incident, Flanagan was the staff sergeant in charge of the holding cells. He said Sabourin was transported from the Assiniboia RCMP to the Moose Jaw Police Service on Oct. 6 for a court date the next day. 

Flanagan testified that he asked the RCMP officer Const. Paul Evans if Sabourin had been searched and Evans told him the Sabourin had been searched and Flanagan trusted the RCMP did a thorough search. 

Flanagan was questioned because MJPS policy states all prisoners must be searched and a metal detector wand must be used before a prisoner is booked into cells. 

He said the metal detector wand was not common practice before the incident. Since the incident, metal detector wands are used on all prisoners. 

Flanagan said he screened Sabourin with a questionnaire and he only answered two of the seven screening questions. One of the questions Sabourin did not answer was whether he felt suicidal. Flanagan testified that there was no MJPS policy for someone who doesn’t answer a screening question. 

It also wasn’t until Flanagan checked the MJPS’s internal system before he learned that Sabourin was flagged as suicidal. 

The next morning, Oct. 7, Flanagan received word that Sabourin was having a difficult time getting out of his cell to go to court. Flanagan attended the cell. He testified that he was talking to Sabourin when he said “look away”, took out a concealed gun and shot himself in the head. He radioed dispatch to get EMS while other officers administered CPR and first aid. 

Flanagan was reprimanded due to the incident including being demoted to constable, suspended and had to retake certification courses. 

Const. Payton Denet testified since he was the officer that went into the cell to get Sabourin on Oct. 7. He said when he went to the cell Sabourin was complaining about back pain, was struggling to sit up and was visibly hurting. 

He went to get his commanding officer, Flanagan, and went back to the cell. Denet was “bewildered” and “shocked” to see Sabourin sitting up with Flanagan and he didn’t look like he was in pain anymore. Denet said he saw Sabourin put the gun to his mouth and mumble something. Denet ran behind a cement barrier and only heard the gunshot. 

Denet returned to the cell and took the revolver-style gun from Sabourin’s hands. While CPR was being administered Denet noted a holster clipped to the inside of front side of Sabourin’s pants. 

He said after the incident his team talked about using the metal detector wands and doing thorough searches of prisoners. 

Also testifying was Const. Melanie Durrant. As a former nurse, she helped with the first aide. Between Durrant, Denet and Flanagan, the inquest did not get a clear picture as to who’s job it is to enforce policies at the MJPS. All the officers said a recommendation for more training would be helpful. 

Day one wrapped up with Deputy Sergeant Rene Le Clair of the Regina Police Service. He was the officer in charge of investigating the in-custody death. 

He said on Oct. 6, Const. Paisley Armstrong of the Assiniboia RCMP was at an auto parts store in Assiniboia to get paperwork signed by a justice of the peace when she noticed Sabourin’s vehicle parked outside. 

She contacted her corporal for back up and Sabourin was arrested on outstanding warrants. Le Clair said an initial roadside search was done but there was no video so he couldn’t comment on how thorough it was. 

Le Clair said video at the RCMP detachment showed Cont. Colin Tetrault searching Sabourin. However, Le Clair couldn’t comment on RCMP training, but he said Sabourin was in an “awkward” position different from what he had learned in police college for municipal police. 

At one point a belt was removed but Le Clair said from angle of the video he couldn’t see if the front of Sabourin’s waistband and groin area was searched properly. 

At the MJPS, Le Clair said video showed Sabourin adjusting around his groin two or three times while Flanagan’s back was turned. He said Flanagan could be heard on the video asking about a search and Evans answering along the lines of “I didn’t find anything.” 

Le Clair was asked about metal detector wands at the RCMP detachment and the MJPS. From his investigation, he found the Assiniboia RCMP did have a wand by no one knew where it was and the MJPS had a wand but it wasn’t common practice to use at the time. 

“A systematic search should have located (the gun),” Le Clair said in his testimony. 

In comparison, he said the Regina Police Service search and use a metal detector wand on all prisoners as they are being booked as common practice. 

Under The Coroners Act, 1999, the chief coroner can hold a public inquest into the death of an inmate unless the coroner is satisfied that the person’s death was from natural causes and was not preventable. 

According to the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety and the coroner’s office, public inquests are fact-finding only and are not intended to find fault.   

Inquests are held to inform the public about the circumstances around the death, make dangerous practices and conditions known and make recommendations to avoid preventable deaths. 

The inquest is expected to take three to five days with 13 people testifying for the jury of six and presiding coroner Blaine Beaven. 

Day two of the inquest continues Tuesday at the Moose Jaw Court of Kings Bench.