There are plenty of pieces of the puzzle when it comes to the death of Gordon "Dale" Couvrette but making them all fit into a perfect picture has proven elusive thus far. Whether any of these snippets of information regarding the fatal events of Feb. 22, 2018, are found to be a contributing or a combination of contributing factors in Couvrette's death remains to be seen.
In-person testimony at the inquest examining the 43-year-old North Bay man's death was given by two first responders who answered dispatch calls to the incident on Harris Drive in Feb. 2018 in Cst. Sarah Marcotte, a North Bay Police Service officer and Sarah Asselin, a primary care paramedic with the District of Nipissing Paramedic Service.
The inquest also heard a half-hour recording of NBPS Cst. Randy Adair's March 2018 statement he gave to the police oversight body SIU with counsel present on behalf of the officer. The jury was told on Tuesday by coroner's counsel that Adair could not testify in person due to medical reasons and this was confirmed by NBPS.
NBPS training officer Cst. Steve Sproule, who was not at the scene, later gave testimony regarding the department's use of force training, and the evolution of the use of the CEW by front-line officers. Photos were introduced into evidence showing a bent barb attached to one of the two probes from a deployed CEW on the floor of the Harris Drive bedroom where paramedics attempted to resuscitate Couvrette.
Police say a raging and delirious Couvrette under the influence of cocaine and morphine struggled in an attempt to avoid being handcuffed and taken into custody by veteran North Bay Police Service constables Steven Trahan and Adair. Marcotte was also in the Harris Drive townhouse of Couvrette's girlfriend, Jennifer Depencier shortly after 5 a.m. but, according to testimony, was not in the bedroom area with the other officers and Couvrette throughout the entire incident.
Marcotte did respond to questions posed during the inquest on Monday by Couvrette's mother, Lillian, as to whether Dale was handcuffed when he was tased.
Marcotte testified hearing the sound of the conducted energy weapon (CEW) as she moved from the upstairs bathroom back into the bedroom and when she next saw Couvrette he was not secured in handcuffs.
Asselin, a paramedic in various roles since 2008, testified before the five-person jury that the response by the two-person paramedic team was delayed due to navigation issues. Inquest counsel Cecilia Martin suggested "improper roads" had been taken on their trip from the station on Seymour Street and the Harris Drive location in West Ferris. Asselin agreed the team had faced challenges as the improper address was given for their destination, located in a complex of townhouses off Lakeshore Drive and Thelma Avenue.
Asselin acknowledged they missed the turn at Thelma and shared the paramedics operate without GPS navigation systems in their rigs, relying on their own knowledge of the streets to respond. Although Asselin could not recall whether the response had been coded as a "lights and signals" call, Martin later produced a document showing it had. Asked by Martin how long the navigation issues delayed their arrival, Asselin responded "under two minutes," with the timeline presented showing a response time of approximately 12 minutes.
Upon arrival, Asselin testified she found Couvrette unrestrained and blue in the face and with "vital signs absent." The paramedic said she was not informed by NBPS officers on the scene that Couvrette has been tased nor that CPR had been attempted by police. Asselin said this information might have changed the way she approached the call, as they "would have gone to the hospital earlier."
Marcotte, an eight-year veteran of the police service remarked how uncommon it was for one person to be able to avoid being placed in handcuffs by two physically imposing male officers, a sentiment shared by Cst. Trahan's earlier testimony and Adair's statement.
In 2018, Adair told investigators he and Trahan arrived at the scene at the same time although Trahan testified Monday that Adair was in the bedroom upstairs talking to a male and he joined Adair upstairs, circling around his fellow officer to ensure his safety and eventually joining him in the small bedroom. Adair also stated Couvrette was wearing a T-shirt although all accounts given during the inquest referred to the deceased as wearing only black underwear or shorts.
Adair said he deployed the CEW into the lower left side of Couvrette's back when it was clear the officers were on the verge of losing control of the man after "five or six minutes," of resistance. Adair said he had been able to get one of the bracelets of the cuffs on one of Couvrette's wrists in the struggle before two sets of handcuffs were later connected behind his back.
Adair said Couvrette was still breathing after he tased him at approximately 5:22 a.m. but by 5:25 a.m. he had stopped breathing and he called for a rush on the EMS. Adair did not perform CPR but he "believed Trahan did." Adair noted he was hesitant to perform CPR without the proper protective equipment due to the presence of drugs in the room and the fear it could be laced with Fentanyl.
Adair sent Marcotte outside to flag down the ambulance as it had been seen driving past their location. Adair stated he gave Couvrette a "sternum rub," a technique used to jolt an unresponsive person awake, a technique Trahan said Monday he had also employed on Couvrette.
As far as Couvrette's "superhuman strength," Adair said "he was out of control," leading him to deploy the CEW.
It is important to note the inquest is examining the circumstances surrounding Couvrette’s death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths in similar circumstances. Inquest juries are prohibited from making any finding of legal responsibility and expressing any conclusion of law. Furthermore, in their recommendations to prevent future deaths, the jury’s role is not to assign blame, free someone from blame, nor state or imply any judgment.
The inquest continues Wednesday.