EDMONTON – An RCMP officer admits he should have handled differently the case of a northern Alberta woman who called 911 before she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend.
Const. Devon Bateman told a fatality inquiry Tuesday that mistakes and misunderstandings started with the operator who took an emergency call from Brenda Moreside in High Prairie in February 2005.
Court previously heard that the operator wrongly labelled Moreside’s complaint as vandalism instead of domestic violence. A supervisor also testified that the operator was condescending and unprofessional in handling the call.
Bateman said the operator failed to pass on important information to him about the call, including that Moreside wanted police to hurry because her drunken boyfriend was pushing on a door she was holding. The officer said he believed Moreside was simply complaining about a broken window when he phoned to talk with her.
He told the 44-year-old woman that her boyfriend couldn’t be arrested for breaking a window in their home. Moreside urged Bateman to come deal with her boyfriend, but the officer said he had no authority to remove the man from his own house.
Bateman said Moreside responded: “Are you going to wait until he kills me until you come?”
He said it was the first mention of violence and he asked the woman if she was concerned for her safety.
She said no. “I just don’t want to deal with him. Can you come and put him in the drunk tank for the night?”
Bateman repeated to Moreside that he couldn’t take her boyfriend away and the woman abruptly hung up.
Twelve days later, acting on a tip, police found Moreside dead. She was lying in her bloody pyjamas near the door of her home. Stanley Willier later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 13 1/2 years.
Bateman told court that because of his inexperience at the time — just over two years on the job — he failed to ask Moreside more questions on the phone, including whether she wanted to go to a women’s shelter.
He said he also should have done a database check on Willier, a man with a violent criminal record. A search would have showed Moreside had filed an assault complaint against Willier six months earlier.
In the end, Bateman said, he should have gone to the couple’s home to help resolve their dispute. It was just a two-minute drive from the RCMP detachment.
Moreside’s daughter, Cynthia Flaata, attended the first two days of the inquiry. She said Bateman and several officers approached her privately to apologize for her mother’s death.
It was something she has waited eight years to hear.
She and her brother didn’t know their mother had made a 911 call until an internal RCMP memo about it was leaked to the media months after the death. RCMP later announced that an error had been made, but didn’t apologize to the family.
Flaata said she no longer blames anyone.
“I think there was a series of events and things that were omitted and left out that contributed to the whole situation,” Flaata, 35, said outside court.
She said she was happy to hear through some of the inquiry testimony that there is now more domestic violence training for 911 operators and Mounties. Bateman told court that he now understands destruction of property in a relationship — Moreside’s broken window — does constitute domestic violence.
“It doesn’t bring my mom back,” said Flaata. “But it’s good to know there’s more procedures and policies in place that’ll cause people to ask more questions and dig deeper hopefully in the future.”