The testimony of North Bay Police Service Cst. Steve Sproule on Tuesday during the inquest being held this week looking into the death of Gordon "Dale" Couvrette, spurred coroner's counsel to have another look at the data relating to the deployment of a conducted energy weapon (CEW) or Taser.
Sproule, a veteran training officer with credentials in multiple disciplines, including use of force and CEW training was recalled to the stand during Wednesday's session in North Bay to interpret the "enhanced data sheet" gleaned by investigators from the CEW used by Cst. Randy Adair during the struggle with Couvrette on Feb. 22, 2018, located in its sealed evidence container since the incident.
Sproule testified he matched the serial number of the CEW in evidence with the one recorded on the incident report. According to Sproule's interpretation of the "pulse log graph" associated with the weapon deployed by Adair in the incident in the upstairs bedroom of the Harris Drive townhouse, although the CEW deployed for 11 seconds, the two probes with barbs attached seemingly did not successfully attach to Couvrette's body to complete the electrical circuit.
"No connection was ever made," Sproule observed.
The finding was of immediate interest to forensic pathologist Dr. Martin Queen who took the stand following Sproule. He had included in his report findings and observations from the post-mortem he had performed on the deceased relating to the effects of the possible use of a CEW but skipped over that section during his testimony, calling it "a moot point," due to the evidence presented earlier.
The use of the CEW has long been a focus of the Couvrette case with the use of the weapon by police considered to have possibly contributed to his death.
Queen presented his forensic pathology report — minus the section pertaining to CEW — and reaffirmed his original finding of Couvrette's cause of death as, “Sudden death with no anatomical cause associated with acute-on-chronic cocaine and amphetamine abuse/intoxication, forcible struggle and possible excited delirium syndrome.”
Queen detailed his findings of 29 superficial scrapes and bruises. Many of the bruises were found on the wrists, consistent with a struggle while in handcuffs, according to the 40-year medical expert. A sub-cutaneous examination of Couvrette's torso also revealed 12 areas of injury but none that led to his death. The forensic pathologist also noted bruising in the area of the front of Couvrette's neck. Although Queen said he was given no indication Couvrette's neck had been compressed during the struggle, he noted such bruising was consistent with a choke hold from the rear.
"Restraint asphyxia is not listed as contributing to the death although the possibility cannot be completely excluded," said Queen. "Since there is a separation of many minutes between direct physical restraint by the police and his cardiac arrest, this decreases the likelihood of a direct role of the physical activities of the police in the cause of death."
Couvrette was also found to have a slightly enlarged heart, according to Queen a "thick left ventricle," that is often consistent with heavy drug users. Cardiac genetic molecular testing was performed to detect any abnormalities in Couvrette's genes but came back with no findings.
The toxicology report showed the use of cocaine, methamphetamine and a related amount of amphetamine, and a sub-therapeutic amount of methadone. None were found to be at fatal levels but Queen cautioned stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine can leave the system at varying speeds, making detection difficult post-mortem.
"Establishing the cause of death in a case such as this," Dr. Queen told the members of the jury, "is to a large part dependent on the quality and veracity of the circumstantial evidence that has been provided. I can only go by what I'm told because I wasn't there.
"Let me give you a hypothetical example of how important that is. Hypothetically, say the circumstantial information was completely different and in the several minutes before he stopped moving, stopped fighting, stopped breathing, someone had their arm around his neck. The autopsy findings could be identical to what I have now. But, my conclusions based on that circumstantial information would be quite different than I have concluded [as] the circumstantial information I have is no one ever put any pressure on his neck. So, I have to hope that information is accurate."
The coroner's counsel has called its last witnesses and it is expected on day four on Thursday, Dr. Steven Bodley, the presiding officer of the inquest, will give the five-person jury his directions and the jury's deliberations will commence. 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.