ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – An Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) investigation into whether Cochrane RCMP officers were criminally negligent in the death of a Mînî Thnî infant found no fault on the part of responding officers.
The investigation opened after the Aug. 23, 2021 death of six-month-old Tanayah Kootenay-Hunter, who is not named in the ASIRT report along with others involved. A Court of King’s bench decision last month, however, disclosed details of the incident and identifies the individuals, including Tyriq Kootenay, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced nine-and-a-half years in jail in the death of his infant daughter.
The investigation, which reviewed police video and radio communications, as well as relevant police, civilian and paramedic interviews, looked at whether RCMP officers demonstrated “reckless disregard” by not entering a Mînî Thnî home without a warrant during a safety check of the victim and her sibling the night Kootenay-Hunter was killed.
“In this situation, the potential omission was failing to enter the residence without a warrant to search for the children,” states the report, released Friday (Oct. 27). “[Police] conducted thorough checks based on limited information of a risk to the children and conducted checks to the limits of the law. They did not show disregard for the life or safety of [Kootenay-Hunter].”
“The death of [Kootenay-Hunter] was a tragedy, for [Brenna Hunter], her family, and her community.”
On the night of the infant girl's death, officers were called after Brenna Hunter and Kootenay, who were common-law partners at the time, got into a dispute at a residence where their two children and two other adults were present.
Responding officers located and questioned Hunter and one of the other adults – a man unidentified by the court – who both left the residence that evening.
According to the ASIRT report, Hunter, who was intoxicated, repeatedly requested officers check on her children with concern for their safety.
“She said that her partner was abusing her and her child, and that he had choked them to death. This was evidence of risk to the children,” states the report. “As with much of the information that [Hunter] provided, however, this was confusing since [Hunter] was clearly alive. [She] did not provide the location of her children and, when she did provide one of their names, it was wrong.
“While this does not invalidate her concerns, it did make them confusing and difficult to investigate.”
When asked about her injuries, as she had blood on her, Hunter told police she fell on the road.
Contrary to Hunter’s concerns, when asked by police, the man said the children were safe when he left the residence and that they were in the care of the homeowner, who was sober. It’s noted in the ASIRT report that police observed the man was also intoxicated, but was more detailed and coherent in his explanation of events.
Hunter was taken to hospital and the man took police back to the residence where officers knocked on the door, looked into windows and announced their presence multiple times, the report states. No one answered and upon trying to call the homeowner’s phone number, they did not pick up.
According to one of the officer’s statements in the report, RCMP ran Kootenay’s name and discovered he had an outstanding arrest warrant. The two officers debated whether they had grounds to enter the residence and determined they did not.
Police asked the man again if the children were safe when he was in the house and he said they were.
“The subject officers did not ignore [Hunter’s] concerns, but instead decided to do a safety check on the children,” states the report.
“In the context of a safety check, the officer must believe, on reasonable grounds, that the life, safety, or health of the person is at significant risk before they can enter a residence without warrant.
“[The man] was telling the subject officers that there was no risk to the children, and there was no reason to disbelieve him,” the report states, noting evidence of risk to the children that came from Hunter was “confusing and contradictory,” where the man’s information was “compelling” and officers were “entitled to believe it.”
Over the next two days, Hunter made three calls to RCMP expressing continued concern for her children. An officer who spoke to Hunter on the first call went to the residence RCMP visited the night prior but did not find anyone home.
After more discussion with Hunter and after she told RCMP she had since visited the home and found a bloody onesie, four police officers went to the residence late Aug. 25, 2021. Receiving no reply to their knocks, they kicked in the door.
An officer located Kootenay-Hunter deceased. Kootenay was present in the home, asleep.
“After such an event, it is important to look at how the tragic consequences could have been avoided,” states the ASIRT report.
"To their credit, the subject officers conducted a safety check on the residence to look for the children. They exhausted the legal means available to them but were unable to locate anyone. They considered warrantless entry to the residence and correctly determined that they lacked the grounds to enter.
“The subject officers acted properly and there are no reasonable grounds to believe they committed an offence. The death of [Kootenay-Hunter] is not on their hands; it is on [Kootenay’s] hands.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.