WATCH: ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson states that while there is no evidence for charges against officers in the Colton Crowshoe investigation, they are ‘not cleared’.
While the Calgary Police Service (CPS) officers involved in the 2014 missing person-turned-murder case of 18-year-old Colton Crowshoe won’t face criminal charges, the executive director of Alberta’s police watchdog says the investigation was rife with errors and there is evidence of an in-custody assault.
“I want to make it clear: CPS has not been cleared of wrongdoing,” Susan Hughson said Thursday. “CPS’s investigation into Colton Crowshoe’s missing-person complaint was not done properly.
“The one thing we can say: it was not the result of racism that we could find evidence of. But they are not cleared.”
Calgary police declined to comment on the case Thursday.
Watch below: ‘The family was not wrong that there were problems with Colton’s missing persons investigation’ – ASIRT
Crowshoe was taken into custody for trespassing and break-and-enter by Calgary police officers early in the morning of July 2, 2014 and released a short time later. Four days later, Crowshoe’s family reported him missing.
It’s believed he was last seen on the evening of July 3, as he left a friend’s home in Abbeydale. His body was found in a nearby drainage pond on July 24. Police determined he had been murdered.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) found the missing-person stage of the investigation was “beset by a series of assumptions, errors and oversights by CPS personnel.
“Several of the missing-person policy protocols were not followed,” Hughson said Thursday. “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.
“The difficulties in this case were many small errors ended up to a catastrophic failure to investigate.”
Watch below: ‘Many small errors ended up to a catastrophic failure’ – ASIRT on Colton Crowshoe investigation
Hughson detailed a lengthy review of various missing-persons cases and said the investigation did not find evidence of any “dishonest or nefarious intent” on the part of the officers involved.
“The evidence does not establish reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence was committed by any officer of the CPS in relation to this missing person investigation,” she said. “As such, no officer will be charged with respect to this aspect of the ASIRT investigation.”
Crowshoe’s family has been vocal about their disappointment in how the missing-person aspect of the case was handled by police.
“Right away he was stereotyped as a runaway,” his aunt, Danielle Crowshoe, previously told Global News. “But they don’t know us, and Colton was always respectful of his father. He would never allow him to worry and never disappear without someone knowing where he was.”
She said at the time it was a case of racial profiling.
“There is a lot of anger, not just from us, but that includes non-native people.”
Watch below: ‘The initial stage of this investigation was beset by a series of assumptions, errors, and oversights’ – ASIRT
But Hughson said Thursday that after July 16, 2014, the file proceeded appropriately.
“The presence of racial bias, had we found evidence of that, could certainly constitute partiality in this context and was specifically addressed in the ASIRT investigation, but no evidence supporting this claim was found,” Hughson said.
Hughson also spoke to allegations that Crowshoe had been assaulted by police during his July 2 arrest. She said video from the scene showed the specific type of assault in custody as described by Crowshoe to his family “did not happen.” However, she did identify a “very brief physical contact in custody.”
“While different than what was initially alleged, [it] would provide evidence sufficient to constitute reasonable grounds to believe that an assault had been committed [by police],” Hughson said.
The video showed Crowshoe apparently asked to remove a chain from his neck while in custody. As he started to remove it, an officer put his hands on Crowshoe.
“The officer placed the young man in a hold that would resemble a vascular neck restraint, with the officer turning the Colton so that he was now facing the camera, standing behind him with his arm across Colton’s shoulders and neck, the inside of his elbow on the area of Colton’s neck,” Hughson said, adding it didn’t appear that Crowshoe was resisting.
While Crowshoe didn’t appear to have been injured during the brief contact, Hughson said such conduct from the police officer is not justified under the Criminal Code.
“There is no identifiable reason that can be seen on the video that would require the observed use of force,” she said. “The fact that it was fleeting and very minor does not change the fact that it would provide reasonable grounds to believe an assault was committed.”
But when the investigation was sent to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) for an opinion, the Crown suggested it wouldn’t meet the standard for prosecution and they declined to proceed.
“Given the ACPS position, the officer will not be charged.”
Hughson became emotional when she described meeting with the Crowshoe family Thursday afternoon.
“While weeks passed, where nothing happened with the CPS missing-persons investigation, this family did everything in their power to try and bring attention to Colton’s disappearance…and they never gave up.
“They may have been wrong about the racial profiling potentially, but they were not wrong that there were problems with Colton’s missing-persons investigation.”
Hughson said the family is devastated and still has no answer as to who murdered Crowshoe.
“Someone out there knows what happened to Colton Crowshoe. This is a good, loving family that never gave up.
“I am going to ask you to come forward. Give this family the chance to heal.”
— With files from Tamara Elliott and Jill Croteau