Drunken man in custody 'for his own safety,' inquest told

A man found drunk and belligerent on a downtown street was taken into RCMP custody "for his own safety," a B.C. coroner's jury looking into his death was told Monday.

John Paul Gibbons, 39, was found dead in the schoolyard at Stuart Wood elementary school Nov. 20, 2009. An autopsy revealed he died of internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen.

The man was arrested the day before for being drunk in a public place. He was released about eight hours later and 12 hours after that, he was dead.

An RCMP investigation at the time concluded the injuries Gibbons suffered were not inflicted while he was in custody. Police have no idea who injured Gibbons. No one has ever been charged.

Const. Michael Phillips found Gibbons, a man he'd dealt with many times in the past, at Fourth Avenue and St. Paul Street.

"To me, he was displaying signs of intoxication. He was slurring his words, having trouble standing and he had a heavy odour of liquor on him," the officer testified.

"You were arresting him for his own good, or because he was committing a criminal act?" asked presiding coroner Rodrick MacKenzie.

"Myself, I would say for his own good, he did not appear to be able to take care of himself," the constable replied.

The officer said Gibbons was yelling and swearing and kicking his feet inside the police vehicle. As a result, the officer decided not to remove the man's handcuffs until he was in a police jail cell.

Once the cuffs were removed, Gibbons stood up from the floor and started banging on the cell door. Michaels said he expected Gibbons would be held until he sobered up, then released.

Members of the jury asked the officer several questions, including about blood the man spilled on the police car as he was taken into the detachment.

Phillips said he remembers discussing the presence of blood with other officers, but said he has no memory of seeing injuries on Gibbons. As well, the man never asked for medical assistance and showed no signs of distress.

"If he had asked for an ambulance, one would have been called for him. If we had seen . . . blood on the floor, or if he was laying there not responding, we would have gone in," the officer testified.

MacKenzie asked the officer if it was possible he or another officer might have applied significant force to Gibbons as they arrested him and housed him in cells.

Phillips said he pinned Gibbons to the ground at one point with his knee, but never put his full weight on the man.

"To keep him on the ground, we used what's called a half mount," the officer said, describing how he put his knee on Gibbons' shoulder blade to stop him from getting up.

"My full body weight was not put on him, but I did use some of my weight to hold him down."

The inquest is scheduled to last three days.

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