Police watchdog clears North Van RCMP officer of neglect

Investigation launched after woman found dead in home, two days after police search

B.C.’s civilian police watchdog has cleared a North Vancouver RCMP officer of wrongdoing in the case of a woman who was found dead in her apartment two days after the officer first searched it.

A report concluding that the officer involved had not been negligent in performing his duty was released Thursday by Ronald MacDonald, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office.

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The report centred on police efforts to locate 45-year-old Elizabeth Joanna Napierala, who was found dead in her apartment in the Woodcroft apartment complex on North Vancouver’s Fullerton Avenue on Sept. 5, 2019.

Police first searched the apartment two days before Napierala’s body was discovered, but didn’t find her because bags and boxes had been placed to hide the view under the bed, where her body was eventually discovered.

The IIO investigation centred on the actions of a North Vancouver RCMP officer first dispatched to the apartment on Sept. 3 after a friend called police. That officer spent over three hours at the scene and reported in to the RCMP dispatch that he had searched the apartment and had not found the woman, according to the report.

The officer declined to provide evidence to IIO investigators.

Over two days that followed, a number of police officers searched nearby trails with help from North Shore Rescue.

On the morning of Sept. 4, three other police officers went back to Napierala’s apartment, but didn’t find her, according to the report.

The next day, Sept. 5, two more police officers went to the apartment and also searched.

There, after moving boxes and bags piled around the bed, the officers discovered the woman’s body underneath it, according to the report.

An autopsy later determined the cause of death as “diphenhydramine toxicity”- poisoning from an overdose of antihistamine found in many common allergy and sleep medications. The time of death was estimated to have been between 24 and 48 hours before the body was discovered.

IIO investigators determined the woman had last entered the building around 11 p.m. on Sept. 2.

MacDonald noted it’s possible the woman died either before or after the first police officer arrived to search the apartment.

He noted the woman had previously been apprehended by police under the Mental Health Act in February of 2019 during a previous suicide attempt which “might explain why she went to extra lengths on this occasion to hide herself so she would not be found.”

While there was no evidence to show the first officer took all reasonable steps to search the apartment, there was also no reason to conclude he didn’t, the report noted, adding other police officers had also searched the apartment and had not found the woman.

MacDonald’s report concluded no offence had been committed by any officer involved in the case.

The North Vancouver RCMP declined to comment on the report.

If you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.

 

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