CALGARY – An Alberta agency that investigates police says Calgary officers made a series of mistakes as they investigated the disappearance of a young indigenous man who was later found dead.
But the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team says it does not believe those errors in Colton Crowshoe’s case were the result of racism or that they amounted to a crime.
“The evidence gathered in the ASIRT investigation clearly demonstrates that the initial stage of this investigation was beset by a series of assumptions, errors, and oversights by (Calgary Police Service) personnel,” executive director Susan Hughson said Thursday afternoon.
“I want to make it clear, CPS has not been cleared of wrongdoing. CPS’s investigation into Colton Crowshoe’s missing person complaint was not done properly. The one thing we can say is that it was not the result of racism that we could find evidence of, but they are not cleared.”
Police charged 18-year-old Crowshoe in July 2014 with trespassing and break and enter. He was released from custody and was last seen on video walking away from a police station in good spirits.
But a few days later his family reported him missing and, three weeks later, his body was discovered in a city retention pond. An autopsy determined his death was a homicide and that case remains unsolved.
Crowshoe’s relatives alleged police did not take their missing person report seriously and accused the force of racism.
Hughson said ASIRT reviewed 28 other missing persons investigations and could find no evidence race played a role in how Crowshoe’s was handled.
Still, the investigation was botched.
“Several of the missing person policy protocols were not followed,” she said. “As a result, there was minimal investigation of the missing person report, no follow-up or file continuity, no accountability or file ownership, a failure to document relevant new information, and most importantly, no police-initiated communication with the family.
“They (the family) may have been wrong about the racial profiling potentially, but they are not wrong that there were problems with Colton’s missing persons investigation.”
The family also alleged that Crowshoe was roughed up during his initial arrest.
ASIRT examined that allegation as well and found that there were no grounds for criminal charges against officers.
“In this case, it is clear that at the time this contact occurred, the officer is in the lawful execution of his duties. He is doing his job,” Hughson said.
She gave the Calgary Police Service credit for reviewing the case itself after it came to light and making changes to the way missing persons cases are investigated.
She said there are lessons to be learned for all police forces when it comes to missing persons cases.
“They need to be treated as potential homicides in many cases,” she said. “Often people will turn up so I understand why there is almost a complacency … but in the cases where they don’t, that time can be critical.”
The Calgary Police Service issued a news release late Thursday saying their internal review has resulted in changes being made to improve the process of managing missing person files.
Those changes include “clearer guidelines for frontline officers and investigators as well as a more thorough accountability framework” that adds checks and balances to ensure missing person files are “managed to the highest standard possible.”
The service also said its policy around communicating with family members of missing persons has also been strengthened.
“To ensure we have covered all the concerns in the ASIRT investigation, we will be reviewing their report in detail to determine if any additional lessons can be learned,” said the statement.
“The tragic death of Mr. Crowshoe remains an active investigation and we ask for anyone with information to come forward.”
Hughson said Crowshoe’s family is devastated by the young man’s death.
“Someone out there knows what happened to Colton Crowshoe,” she said.
“This is a good, loving family that never gave up. Please, I am going to ask you to come forward. Give this family the chance to heal.”