Officers used stun guns, pepper-sprayed Boden Umpherville, 40, during arrest on April 1
WARNING: This story contains graphic content.
CBC News: The family of Boden Umpherville is still searching for answers about what led to the man being stun-gunned and seriously injured by members of the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) several weeks ago.
Umpherville, 40, has been in hospital on life support for weeks as a result of injuries he sustained from an altercation with police during the early morning hours of April 1. He was recently declared brain dead.
“I hope this never happens to any mother, what I have to go through,” said his mother Verna Umpherville during a news conference hosted by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatoon Friday morning. “I’m so sad. My heart’s broken for my son.”
On April 1, officers pulled over a black Dodge Avenger in the 1100 block of 13th Street West in Prince Albert, Sask. Police say the vehicle had been reported stolen. Three people were in the vehicle at the time, including its registered owner. The owner previously told CBC News they were driving and did not report it stolen.
Witness video obtained by CBC News showed six police officers around the vehicle, ordering Umpherville out of the vehicle. During the altercation, they used stun guns on him multiple times, one officer used pepper spray and at least one officer appeared to hit him, before they grabbed him out of the vehicle for the arrest.
A canine unit was also on scene, according to the FSIN. Police say Umpherville went into medical distress shortly after the arrest. He was sent to hospital, where he has been on life support for three weeks. CBC News has not seen footage of what led to the vehicle being pulled over, nor of any provocation that may have led to police trying to arrest Umpherville.
Click on the following link to access the video:
Saskatchewan’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), which investigates incidents where someone is injured or dies due to police actions or while in custody, says investigators found a loaded handgun at the scene. The provincial justice ministry previously told CBC News that it did not belong to Prince Albert police officers.
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Umpherville’s family says doctors have told them his condition was accelerated because his heart had stopped for 20 minutes before being revived.
According to the FSIN, the officers involved in the incident on April 1 were put on administrative leave for one week, but are now back on the job. A spokesperson for Prince Albert police has previously said they cannot comment due to the ongoing SIRT investigation, but confirmed Friday that all officers involved remain assigned to their regular duties during the investigation. The officers were given time to participate in the SIRT investigation, as well as access to PAPS’s peer-led reintegration program and in-house wellness strategy, the spokesperson said.
The service also has three members trained in critical incident reintegration for first responders, and a return-to-work program that offers support for officers involved in incidents, including stun gun deployments, the spokesperson said.
The provincial justice ministry would not confirm how many officers were identified as being involved in the incident.
The FSIN held Friday’s news conference in support of Umpherville’s family. Umpherville’s father was a member of the Ahtakahkoop Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan. “Trust has been eroded — and continues to be eroded,” said FSIN second vice chief Edward “Dutch” Lerat, who called for transparency around the investigation. “It is our inherent right for equal and respectful justice and policing. We have the authority to ensure that our treaty rights are protected and our citizens are safe in the city of Prince Albert.”
PAPS was already subject to a SIRT investigation regarding a police-involved shooting in January that killed an Indigenous man.
The Saskatchewan government also brought in former Edmonton Police Service Chief Rod Knecht to conduct a review of PAPS after scrutiny stemming from the death of 13-month-old Tanner Brass last year and three in-custody deaths in 2021.
Lerat said he is eager for the results of that audit. The review is complete and Knecht’s final report has been submitted to Christine Tell, the minister of corrections, policing and public safety, although there are no plans to “publicly discuss the release” of the report, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News.
For investigations like the one into Umpherville’s arrest, SIRT must publicly release a report of its findings within 90 days of the investigation ending, per the provincial Police Act. SIRT has appointed a community liaison for the investigation, a justice ministry spokesperson told CBC News. The agency is required to appoint someone of First Nations or Métis ancestry to help with the investigation when the victim is Indigenous.
Family wants answers
Umpherville, an uncle and father with five children, has been trying to turn his life around, working as a youth worker at a community centre in Prince Albert, his family said. “He had a big heart,” said his mother Verna.
The family still has many unanswered questions about what happened on April 1. They say PAPS did not initially notify them about what happened to Umpherville and lied about where he was. They allege the force is guilty of systemic racism. They also want the officers involved to be dismissed. “I’m just disgusted with the police force for what they did to my brother,” said Darry Umpherville.
Watch Boden Umpherville’s mother speak at Friday’s news conference: Family of a man who was left critically injured after being repeatedly Tasered by Prince Albert police wants answers
Click in the following lnk to access the above video:
A spokesperson for PAPS did not answer questions from CBC News regarding the family’s allegations, nor questions about how the service avoids excessive use of force. The answers the family seeks will come through the SIRT investigation, Lerat said. In the meantime, the FSIN will advocate for the family and try to help get what answers it can for them, he said. Lerat said there are many good police officers in Prince Albert, but that this incident has shattered confidence in the force in general.
PAPS leadership must be cautious of how it handles this situation, because it could do a disservice to most police officers, said Temitope Oriola, a criminology professor at the University of Alberta, whose research focuses in part on policing and use of force. “When [police] keep a tight lid over this type of incident … they’re starting what I would consider a protectionist ring — which is great for the officers in question,” Oriola said.
“But the consequences are egregious for police services. Indiscipline increases among the rank-and-file and, perhaps most significantly, public trust is eroded. The legitimacy of the police service itself becomes questioned.”
Transparency and accountability are crucial when it comes to incidents like this, he said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas Frew, Reporter
Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.