Following the testimony from four witnesses to open the mandatory inquest into the 2018 death of Gordon "Dale" Couvrette in an interaction involving members of the North Bay Police Service, after four years, his family members finally got to ask the questions that have haunted them since that fateful night.
In a practice unique to an inquest, the family of the deceased is permitted to cross-examine a witness.
Couvrette's brother, Glen, asked Cst. Steven Trahan, who was one of three NBPS officers who initially responded to the call to the Harris Drive townhouse just after 5 a.m. on Feb. 22, 2018, and was in the room and involved in the scuffle with another North Bay police officer to handcuff Couvrette, if Dale was fighting back against the officers or attacking them or "just being difficult to apprehend?"
Trahan responded from the stand, "He wasn't fighting with us, he was more resisting."
Then, Lillian Couvrette, Dale's mother asked Trahan, "Did he have handcuffs on when he was tased? That's a very important question."
"Not on my side," Trahan stated.
"I want to know for sure," Mrs. Couvrette replied. "Somebody must know."
Although an inquest may have lawyers representing various — and sometimes opposing — interests, no one is on trial and the jury is not allowed to assign blame in its verdict.
North Bay Dr. Steven Bodley is the presiding officer of the inquest which includes a five-person jury. Jose Rodriguez and Cecilia Martin are the inquest counsel. Lynda Bordeleau is representing the North Bay Police Service.
Bodley pressed Trahan for clarification on the use of handcuffs on Couvrette.
Trahan and Cst. Randy Adair were the two officers in direct proximity to Couvrette, while Cst. Sarah Marcotte also played a role in assisting the others to handcuff him. Although Trahan said he could not recall, he agreed one of the bracelets might have been attached to Couvrette's other wrist but not around the arm he had been trying to control since he entered the room to join Adair, who was the first on the scene.
Trahan told the inquest the interaction was the "worst struggle I've ever been in in my life," later adding, "the Taser didn't even faze him."
Marcotte is expected to give testimony this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, while Adair's statement to the SIU will be read for the record. The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death.
An earlier witness, the girlfriend of Couvrette, in whose home the incident took place, told the inquest, although she had been removed from the bedroom where he was tased, she now believes he was handcuffed at the time the weapon was deployed. Jennifer Depencier agreed under oath that her initial statement to the SIU was clouded by drug use, stress, and sleep deprivation. In that 2018 statement, she told SIU the handcuffs were not on Couvrette when Adair discharged his Conducted Energy Weapon (Taser).
Dr. Harry Voogjarv, regional supervising coroner for North Region, Sudbury Office, scheduled the inquest into the death of Gordon Dale Couvrette for up to five days this week at the Best Western Hotel with up to 10 witnesses expected to be called. An inquest into the death is mandatory under the Coroners Act.
The inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding Couvrette’s death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths in similar circumstances. For more information about inquests, click here.
No charges were laid against North Bay police officers after the 43-year-old Couvrette was pronounced dead at the hospital that night following the interaction with NBPS. The Special Investigations Unit determined there were no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges in relation to the death.
See related: Local man dies after being tased by police
Both Lillian and Glen Couvrette took the stand to provide background on Dale's life. They both spoke lovingly of Dale but with some regret about how, despite their best efforts, the life of their loved one eventually became plagued by mental health and addiction. They testified that Dale would forever be remembered as a devoted father and someone who helped people out despite his own struggles.
In an inquest, the deceased's family may wish to seek standing (with or without a lawyer) or observe the proceedings with the public. Depending on the circumstances, family members may also be called as witnesses at an inquest. Parties with standing may represent themselves, or have lawyers or agents represent them. Parties may cross-examine witnesses relevant to their expressed interest and call certain witnesses of their own. However, the person presiding over the inquest must find that the evidence of such a witness is relevant to the proceedings.
According to the SIU report, officers were called to the home by a neighbour about a domestic dispute. Police say some hours before the domestic assault, Couvrette had been using drugs, including cocaine, hydromorphone and morphine before becoming extremely agitated and paranoid.
Couvrette grabbed a golf club that was in the room and started swinging it at an imaginary person, who he believed was there to harm him and his girlfriend. She tried to calm him down but to no avail. He grabbed her by the hair and placed her in a headlock. By the time of the arrival of the police, they were both on the floor. Soon after entering the home, the officers became involved in a struggle with the man as they tried to subdue him. After several minutes of attempting to grapple the man into submission, one officer deployed his Taser but this had no discernible effect.
The officers had great difficulty because of what was described as the man's “superhuman strength” and the perspiration covering his body.
"In time, the officers were finally able to gain control of the man who was believed to be suffering from a drug-induced psychosis," adds the report. "While waiting for an ambulance, the man’s breathing began to fail and as such, officers began to administer CPR. The paramedics took charge of the man’s treatment and eventually transported him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead."
The subsequent post-mortem examination report described the cause of Couvrette's death in the following terms: “Sudden death with no anatomical cause associated with acute-on-chronic cocaine and amphetamine abuse/intoxication, forcible struggle and possible excited delirium syndrome.”