Off the Shelf
When police become prey: the cold hard facts of Neil Stonechild’s freezing death
By Tom Rataj
On the cold winter night of November 24, 1990, 17-year-old Neil Stonechild, a young aboriginal man left a residence in Saskatoon, after consuming an amount of alcohol over the preceding few hours. He was not adequately dressed for the intensity of that unusually cold Saskatchewan night. Five days later, his body was found frozen to death in a snowy field on the edge of town.
By Tom Rataj
After a short investigation, the Saskatoon Police closed the file concluding that the death was accidental. The coroner listed the cause of death as hypothermia, and toxicology tests revealed a blood alcohol level of almost twice the legal limit for driving.
His death was all but forgotten until January 2002, when another aboriginal man, Darrell Knight was dropped off outside of town by two Saskatoon officers. Although he walked home safely, another aboriginal man was found frozen to death several days later, touching off a media frenzy about possible police connections to the second death and the death of Stonechild and others over the preceding 12 years.
Jason Roy, a friend of Stonechild came forward a few weeks later and alleged that on the night Stonechild went missing, he encountered him handcuffed and bleeding from the face in the back of a Saskatoon police car screaming that “they” were going to kill him.
Operation Ferric was soon launched by the RCMP, with a mission to investigate the freezing deaths and their alleged connections with Saskatoon police officers.
This launched what author Candis McLean claims to be the beginning of a lengthy witch-hunt trying to hold someone, anyone, accountable for Stonechild’s death. She alleges that long simmering tensions between local, provincial and federal authorities and the aboriginal communities was fuelled by the politically and financially motivated and ambitious Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), the news media and others which ultimately led to a miscarriage of justice.
In this detail and content-dense book, McClean examines virtually every element of the case and concludes that two Saskatoon officers, Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, were scapegoated for Stonechild’s death, despite not even having had contact with him on the night of his death. The officers were never charged criminally but were eventually fired after a Commission of Inquiry later ruled that “Stonechild was probably last seen in the custody of the two officers” and that they had the time to have driven him to the location where his body was found.
McClean sets out numerous convincing arguments, based on transcripts, police reports, witness statement and interviews she herself conducted, to support her contentions that this entire series of circumstances was a huge miscarriage of justice.
Paperback: 390 pages (and Kobo ebook)
Publisher: Audacious Books (Oct. 20 2015)
Available at: www.amazon.ca and www.chapters.indigo.ca
More information can also be found here: http://whenpolicebecomeprey.com/