Two officers described as ‘God’s gift to the Native community’ were never tried in a court of law, yet implicated through a public inquiry in a decade-old Aboriginal freezing death, and fired. All this during a time of great confusion, beneath an emotional cloud of alleged racism. The cold, hard fact is: now the dust has settled, not a single Saskatoon police officer was ever found involved in a single freezing death. Citizens are asking: ‘If, the justice system can assign blame to two reputable officers without any real evidence – how safe are we?
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Sunday, Nov. 25, 1990. First light was brightening the sky to pewter-grey when Larry Hartwig jumped from his car and ran up the walk, his breath a steaming trail of vapour. “Sandy!” he called, bursting through the door. “Where are you?” “In the kitchen, coffee’s on!” his wife called. The petite blond, a Saskatchewan farm girl, could have been a model, but she preferred the gruelling work of an RN. In addition to the toll extracted by shift work, she was six months pregnant with their first child, and exhausted.
“How are you two feelin’?” he asked, pulling a chair up to the gleaming pine table.
“We’re a little tired,” she said, lazily stretching her arms out to him. “Busy shift? Gosh, Honey, what’s wrong?”
“Got to tell you,” he said. “Worst thing I’ve ever done.” “Oh, no! What happened?” During their two-and-a-half years of marriage, Sandy had become accustomed to trading stories-without-names with her police officer husband. She had seldom seen him so upset. “Just one of those crazy, crazy Saturday nights where we were going from call to call to call and then my partner and I – tonight I was partnered with a guy named Brad Senger, brand new constable, still on probation – we had to um ….” Pressing his lips together, he blinked rapidly. “Horrible!” Sandy murmured, pouring his coffee, squeezing his hand, stirring in cream.
“RCMP asked us to notify a woman that her estranged husband, when he took their boys out for a visitation … he actually … he shot their sons. Murdered them both.”
“Can you imagine telling that to their mom? Both sons dead? She was so distraught and I felt so useless ….”
Sandy let him talk. “Not only that, the father was going to kill himself, too, but then he flinched when the gun went off and he wounded himself. He was found outside his house, alive but ….”
After she calmed him down, Larry went to bed but couldn’t sleep, so she listened some more. He went over what he had said trying to assist the traumatized woman and he asked what he could have done better.
Neither of them would ever forget the conversation. But it was a completely different call that Larry, 31, and Brad, 26, had taken that same bitterly cold 1990 night – a routine call that Larry hadn’t even mentioned to her because nothing happened since he and his partner had been unable to find the youth they were dispatched to look for – that 10 years later would somehow, impossibly, transform their vital young lives.
Sometime that same night, a strikingly handsome teenager with shiny, coal-black hair had gone missing. He later found himself miles from the detention home to which he had been sentenced, stumbling through knee-deep snow in an empty lot in Saskatoon’s industrial north end. His cheeks white with frostbite, faculties numbed with cold, bare hands pulled up into the sleeves of his unzipped jacket, he felt like a hot iron was pressing his skin. Somewhere he had lost a running shoe, but he kept on going. An indentation in a snow-filled ditch revealed where he had fallen earlier. Urged on by all the life-seeking instincts in his strong young body, he crawled out of the ditch, but was unable to return to his feet. Finally, he could move not one inch further. The snow was a cool, clean sheet. Sinking onto it face-first, he pulled his arms up against his chest, breathed a quiet sigh, and drifted off to sleep. Discovered later in a pocket of his faded jeans, a creased and worn clue may help solve, finally, the decades-old mystery: why was that youth out in that part of the city? And how did he get there – miles from home, miles from anywhere?
CHAPTER 11 ‘Reality Test’ by Const. Larry Lockwood
The term “Post Mortem” means “After Death.” To forensic pathologists, specialists who determine the cause of injuries on corpses, this means that whatever made the marks found on Neil Stonechild’s hand had to be present both before and after he died. Since he had no handcuffs on when found, any such handcuffs had to have been removed after his death.
There is a very simple experiment you can perform yourself to examine what post mortem means. Press a finger against the back of your hand for five seconds, and then remove it. The white mark you see is caused by the pressure of your finger pushing the blood away from that portion of your skin. Because you are alive and your heart is pumping blood, the white mark soon returns to its normal skin colour. If you had died with your finger pressed against your skin, the white mark would have remained visible after your death. It would remain indefinitely, even after the instrument that caused the mark (your finger) was removed. In order to leave that mark, your finger must be present both before death, and after you have died.
All police officers investigate files differently, but at the end of their investigation, before their evidence is presented to a judicial body, their findings and theories must pass the “Reality Test.” A crucial reality test question: “In the real world, is my theory even possible?”
All the experts at the Stonechild Inquiry, except the RCMP witness, testified that whatever caused the marks on his hand was post mortem. In other words, it was on the hand after death and had to have been removed after death. What would this mean then, if we were to apply post mortem to a “reality test” to evaluate whether or not handcuffs could have caused the marks found on Stonechild’s body? If we are to believe that the marks were most likely the result of Stonechild having been in police custody, this is what would have had to occur – not what might have occurred, or could possibly have occurred but what absolutely would have had to occur – in order to leave the marks found on Stonechild’s hand.
Stonechild’s friend Jason Roy stated that Stonechild was seated in the rear of a police car, bleeding heavily from the face, handcuffed behind his back, and screaming, “These guys are going to kill me!” This is what the inquiry would have you believe: that Stonechild was taken into custody by the police, beaten across the face in some manner to cause a bleeding injury, transported to a remote location wearing police handcuffs on only one hand, dropped off and left to freeze to death.
This is not what actually happened. This is what would have had to happen for there to be any truth in what was claimed. If what the inquiry judge said was true, the police had to have taken Neil Stonechild into custody and beaten him up, causing the facial injury that Roy described (and which four specialists described as scratches, likely from the vegetation into which he took his final fall). The police had to have locked Stonechild in handcuffs that can be traced back to the police. In fact, their serial number can be used to trace them back to the very officer to whom they were issued! And only put the handcuff on one hand!
Then, a short time later, the officers had to have stopped and talked with Jason Roy while his friend Stonechild was seated in the rear of the police car, screaming, “These guys are going to kill me!” Thus creating a witness to potential misconduct. After speaking with witness Jason Roy, the police then had to have transported Stonechild to a remote location in Saskatoon’s north industrial area and removed Stonechild from their car, leaving him in traceable police handcuffs to wander around in any direction he chose, while the police officers would have had to leave and return to duty, where they took many other calls for service that night.
(And if the officers were going to drive anyone anywhere from Snowberry Downs to let him roam around and freeze to death, why would they drop him within the city for other police to investigate? Why not drive him outside the city and then it becomes an RCMP problem. They would have wanted to get out of town and back as fast as possible, so they would have driven him, not to the north side of the city, out 33rd to the west, outside the city, where it was desolate and the next city miles away, so there would be less chance of Stonechild – or the cops – being seen.) You can see how absurd the whole idea is!
The pathologists all agreed that it would take a person anywhere from two to three hours to be overcome by hypothermia. So now, with Stonechild having been released from custody, this person who was in fear of dying at the hands of the police, according to his friend Jason Roy, had to have not run like hell, far away from the area, as soon as he was no longer under the control of the police, while the officers left and took other calls for service. He had to not flag down a car for help, or walk to one of the plants operating around-the-clock in the area. Instead, he had to get extremely cold and walk out into a snow-covered field, lie down and die.
The police, anywhere from two to three hours later, then had to have returned to the area where they dropped Stonechild off, wearing traceable police handcuffs. They had to have searched and located Stonechild frozen to death in this dark, wide-open, snow-covered field, and removed the handcuffs. (Remember, the marks were post mortem; he had to be wearing the handcuffs after death.)
There are only three problems here. One: there was only one set of footprints left in the snow where Stonechild’s body was found, and those were Stonechild’s. Two: there was no blood found on Stonechild’s face, clothing or the snow beneath his face. Remember, Roy told RCMP that Stonechild was “gushing” blood from the face and said on CBC news, “his face was cut open pretty good.” Three: the “handcuff” marks were down below the bone in the wrist which holds handcuffs in place. Dr. Emma Lew, at the Police Act hearing, testified that enlarged photos clearly showed the detail of a cloth weave on his skin along with microscopic fibres – probably the result of Stonechild having pulled his hands inside his jacket cuff for warmth.
Now, what would the officers, who had never worked together before, have to be thinking as they abandon Stonechild wearing handcuffs that could be traced back to one of them? These officers would have to believe that, one: they would be able to locate Stonechild in the dark, anywhere from two to three hours later, so that they could retrieve their handcuffs; two: that Stonechild would not be found by a passer-by before they could return; three: that they could clean the blood impeccably off Stonechild’s clothing (and the snow under his face); and four: that, as they went about their duties, they would not be involved in some other situation that would tie them up for the rest of the night and prevent their returning to find the body so they could retrieve their traceable handcuffs. Does any of this pass the Reality Test?”
Constables Hartwig and Senger were both fired from their jobs as a direct result of the Stonechild Inquiry, which left both officers branded in the public eye as murderers. No charges have ever been brought against these officers in a court of law, and these officers have no way of clearing their names, yet here we are, many years later, with the lives of these officers and their families destroyed by a process that was neither fair nor impartial, based on the false assumption that Stonechild was in police custody the night he went missing!
There have been countless articles and books written about this affair. But all the writings of the politically-correct, all the media hype, all the words of all the lawyers and witnesses that lined up in support of the ‘starlight tour’ myth, will never change the one cold, hard fact that remains constant: the marks found on Neil Stonechild’s hand were left there post mortem. In addition to all the events that must follow from that fact, in terms of getting those marks there.
Neil Stonechild was never in police custody [Lockwood concluded]. The Saskatchewan Department of Justice knows this; that’s why no charges have ever been brought against these officers. I believe that the Stonechild Inquiry had one purpose only, and that was to find scapegoats to satisfy special interest groups which are now the tail wagging the Justice dog. In the ‘starlight tour’ cases, hillbilly justice was alive and well in the Province of Saskatchewan!
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