Police didn’t do enough to help homeless man overdosing on opiates, inquest hears

A man who was found dying of an opioid overdose near a downtown Toronto hotel may not have been properly helped by police when he was found, a coroner’s inquest heard Monday.

Brad Chapman, 43, died in August 2015 after he was discovered unconscious and with drug paraphernalia around his body on Walnut Street in downtown Toronto.

An inquest into his death is examining the circumstances around the emergency response. The inquest will also look into how Chapman’s addiction was handled during his time in jail, and why it took a full week for his family to be notified while he was fighting for his life in hospital.

“He fell through many cracks, many cracks in the system. And I think that’s the difficult part for us as a family,” said Leigh Chapman, the younger sister of the deceased.

She’s hoping the jury will recommend changes to prevent similar deaths from happening again.

“Why didn’t he get the help he needed, and what we can do to make a difference for other people so that doesn’t happen again?” she said.

Police ‘did not execute’ duties

A security guard was the first person to find Chapman, who he says was slouched over and borderline unconscious, on an summer morning in 2015.

When two police officers arrived, Chapman’s position was likely obstructing his breathing, a lawyer representing the coroner said, but the officers did not move Chapman to improve his airflow.

“We think that even with the training they did have, they did not execute,” the family’s lawyer Suzan Fraser told CBC Toronto outside the courtroom. “[Police] need to be in a position, when they are responding to calls, to be able to act, to perform first aid.”

Paramedics arrived soon after and were able to successfully revive Chapman. He was taken to Toronto General Hospital where he spent seven days as an unidentified “John Doe,” his family unaware that he was drifting toward death on a hospital bed.

Chapman’s condition never meaningfully improved and he was taken off life support eight days after he was found.

His mother, Corinne Chapman, told the jury she remains “absolutely struck by how close we came to missing that whole event.”

Family calls for more safe injection sites

At the inquest’s opening, Corinne Chapman also told the jury about her son’s life and descent into addiction and homelessness.

Chapman, who is survived by three children and three grandchildren, bounced in and out of jail during the last years of his life, his mother said.

He battled addiction during those final years, the jury heard, often using drugs alone and on city streets. Chapman was released from jail just two weeks before his fatal overdose.

Asked if her son would have benefited from the three safe injection sites that have opened in Toronto since Chapman’s death, Corinne Chapman said “absolutely.”

She praised Toronto’s Moss Park harm reduction site, which opened against city regulations in 2017, as a “highly successful operation,” and said her son would have almost certainly used one of the sites, rather than using drugs on the street.

Corinne Chapman said she’d like to see the province open more overdose prevention sites in response to her son’s death.

“It would have been perfect for him,” she said. “I know we need more of those.”

In addition to possible changes to harm reduction services, the jury will be tasked with offering recommendations in the following areas:

  • How Chapman’s addiction was handled during his time in prison.
  • How Chapman was transitioned back into society following his incarceration.
  • How Toronto police responded to his overdose.
  • How police are trained to handle possible drug overdoses.
  • The programs and services that exist to help drug addicts.
  • Why Chapman was not identified for a week after being admitted to hospital.

The inquest is scheduled to run until Dec. 4.

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