An RCMP task force looking into the deaths of native men in the Saskatoon area has added more material to its caseload: the death 10 years ago of teenager Neil Stonechild, whose demise was said to have raised suspicions within the ranks of the Saskatoon police force.
The 19-member RCMP task force was assembled after Darrell Night told police that on Jan. 28, two Saskatoon police constables handcuffed him, drove him outside the city in freezing weather and abandoned him without a jacket near the place the frozen bodies of two other native men were later found.
Two Saskatoon police constables, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, were suspended from duty in relation to Mr. Night's complaint. They deny any involvement in the deaths of Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner, whose bodies were found Jan. 29 and Feb. 3.
Saskatoon police say the three events could be coincidental.
But the death of Mr. Stonechild, 17, whose frozen body was found Nov. 29, 1990, in an industrial park in Saskatoon's north end, bears closer scrutiny, sources familiar with the case say. And yesterday, the RCMP put the Stonechild file on its list of incidents to look into -- eventually.
"We're very aware of the Neil Stonechild file. We have the material," said RCMP task force spokesman Sergeant Rick Wyechreschuk. "We know it falls within our mandate, but we're not actively investigating it at this moment. When the other cases are cleared up, we'll take a look at it."
At least one Saskatoon police source told The Globe and Mail yesterday that there were immediate suspicions in 1990 that members of the city police force might somehow be linked to the death of Mr. Stonechild.
"The police themselves thought the police were involved that morning," said the source. "We suspected something right away. I remember clearly what was said that morning. The rumour had been around for years that this sort of thing was going on. It was all hearsay, of course. But the first thing I heard that morning was someone saying, 'I wonder who [on the force]dropped him off?' "
Mr. Stonechild was found near the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.
"There was speculation he was walking there to give himself up -- that's a load of BS," said the source, who expressed surprise that the RCMP task force had not made the case a priority.
"It would be interesting if someone had a look at that file -- maybe it's disappeared."
The task force is looking into five events: Mr. Night's complaint, the deaths of Mr. Naistus and Mr. Wegner, the death of Lloyd Dustyhorn, who was found frozen to death in Saskatoon Jan. 19, and the death of D'Arcy Ironchild, who died in his home some hours after being released from the Saskatoon drunk tank.
"There's lots more similar fact with Stonechild [than that of Mr. Ironchild]" the source said.
Stella Bignell, Mr. Stonechild's mother, said yesterday that a member of the Saskatoon police force investigated her son's death in late 1990 and early 1991. But the officer, a native member of the force, was silenced and pulled off the case.
"They told him to shut up," she said. "The police told him to quit, to leave it alone or they would have his job."
Meanwhile, Darcy McKenzie of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said yesterday that aboriginal officials have fielded about 100 complaints of police harassment since the allegations surfaced.
Alleged victims called chiefs, band officials, native politicians and others to report incidents of verbal and physical abuse, beatings and threats.