‘It was the wrong decision,’ testifies PA police sergeant about not calling an ambulance for prisoner who later died
November 2, 2023 By Jayda Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Nov. 2, 2023, Prince Albert, Sask. – The inquest into the death of Jordan Norfield in Prince Albert included a three-and-a-half-hour testimony from a police sergeant on Wednesday – the person who multiple witnesses have said had the final say on not calling an ambulance to the detention cell.
Sgt. Tyson Morash testified that he was overseeing both the detention cell and the street overnight from Dec. 1 to Dec. 2, 2020. That night, Norfield was detained for breaching his COVID-19 self-isolation orders.
On Monday, the inquest saw video footage of Norfield in his cell. Halfway through the night, around 1:30 a.m., Norfield began losing his balance, shaking, and appeared to be convulsing on and off until paramedics arrived around 9 a.m.
Paramedics came for a scheduled pickup to take Norfield to hospital for a medical assessment to see if he was fit to transport to North Battleford – not because he was in medical distress.
Norfield died in hospital on Dec. 5. So far, no evidence has been presented on his cause of death.
The inquest heard that the first time Morash decided against calling an ambulance was at about 10:45 p.m., when a guard notified him that Norfield said he was struggling to breathe.
The decision, as Morash said, was influenced by a call to the hospital.
“They didn’t feel there was a need for him to come back to the hospital so quick,” he said, and recalled telling the guard to monitor him closer.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Norfield went to the hospital twice earlier that day due to chest pain. All of his tests suggested he was healthy.
Then, shortly before 3 a.m., Morash was out of the building when the constable relayed over the radio that he felt Norfield should go to the hospital because it looked like he was seizing.
Morash said he called Parkland Ambulance to see if they could do an in-cell check, but was told that was something they don’t do.
“I have called an ambulance many times for seizures, many times,” he said. “Most of the time, generally, it’s not a seizure.”
In response to a question from a lawyer, Morash said he would consider it “flopping versus convulsing.”
He told the inquest that he assumed Norfield was intoxicated. In a lot of cases, Morash said once prisoners sober up, “they want out of there badly” and their addiction “leads them to say or do things that aren’t true.”
COVID-19 also played a role in Morash’s decision, he testified.
“The thought was if we don’t have to move him, we won’t,” he said.
Morash added that, especially at that time before vaccines were available, COVID-19 was considered a major risk to public safety. Not only did he not want to put any more stress on the hospital, he didn’t want to risk the safety of the staff and civilians there.
At about 5:30 a.m., Morash said he saw Norfield fall off of the toilet and hit his head on the wall. This caused a two-inch gash that later need to be stapled up.
Morash said “I don’t believe that you could” seriously injure yourself falling from a seated position. He also said he hadn’t noticed any blood.
For three and a half hours following the fall, Norfield laid on his stomach on the floor with his pants down, covered in urine.
When lawyer Scott Spencer was questioning Morash, another lawyer, Mitch Holash, interrupted to say it was sounding “argumentative” and that Spencer seemed to be seeking different responses.
At one point, Morash attempted to answer to Spencer, but he continued speaking.
Spencer repeatedly questioned Morash on how not wanting to further expose others to COVID-19 influenced his decision to not call an ambulance earlier on in the night, since Norfield was already scheduled to go to the hospital in the morning.
“That doesn’t make any sense. That was already going to happen anyways,” said Spencer.
Coroner Tim Hawryluk reminded counsel that inquests are not intended to find fault. Instead, inquests determine the circumstances surrounding a death so that the six-person jury can make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
During cross examination, Holash asked Morash about intoxicated people often falling in the hands of the police – and that sergeants aren’t medically trained aside from basic first aid.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of resources in the community,” said Morash. “It comes down to managing resources.”
In one year, Morash said Prince Albert police saw 6,600 people come into the detention cells. He estimated that 80 per cent of those people were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
Since this incident, a pilot project was implemented – and continued to remain in place – where a paramedic stays at the detention cells for 12 hours overnight to ensure prisoners are receiving proper medical attention.
Morash said it makes a big difference.
“If a paramedic tells me he needs to go to the hospital, he needs to go to the hospital,” he said. “It’s huge.”
Morash admitted that “it was the wrong decision, without a doubt” to not call an ambulance.
Despite having issues with addictions, Morash said Norfield “was generally a pretty good kid.”
“I am truly sorry to the family,” he said.
– Prince Albert Daily Herald
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