Monday was day one of the inquest into the death of Steven Rigby.
In December 2018, Rigby was killed in a police-involved shooting just outside Saskatoon.
Friends described him as an intelligent man and good friend who had his demons to overcome, and who had been struggling with mental health and addictions.
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Shelly Martin was a friend and coworker of Rigby in North Battleford. She said she noticed her friend becoming more withdrawn around June that year.
Rigby attempted suicide on three separate occasions, according to Martin, and was admitted to the Battlefords Union Hospital (BUH). Each time he was released.
“How do you release somebody from the hospital with a prescription right after they tried to commit suicide?” she asked.
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Martin said her friend wasn’t happy with a doctor at BUH who told him he wasn’t suicidal, just an alcoholic.
He refused to return to that doctor after another suicide attempt, Martin testified.
“He screamed at RCMP that if he had to talk to that doctor that he was going to kill himself,” she said.
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Instead, she said she drove him to Saskatoon to get help.
Rigby’s mother said more should have been done to get her son help when he reached out.
“That doctor said to him that he was just an alcoholic and he wasn’t suicidal even though he was making suicidal attempts,” Carey Rigby-Wilcox said.
“He was always telling me how he wasn’t getting the attention he felt he deserved.”
Const. Jordan Lapointe was a childhood friend of Rigby, and a member of the Saskatoon Police Service.
He said he, and Rigby’s other friends, tried to be supportive and help him manage his addictions and negative feelings.
He said for years Rigby joked to friends, including him, about dying in a police shoot-out.
‘He was absolutely terrified’
On the night of Rigby’s death, Lapointe said he’d gotten several messages from friends to check up on him after receiving strange messages or phone calls that sounded like a goodbye.
Rigby’s mother, who was also worried, tracked his car to the Pike Lake area, Lapointe testified. She then called him “hysterical”, saying her son had fired two shots and was holding a gun to his head.
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She called 911 and Lapointe informed police of the situation, then called Rigby, who picked up.
Lapointe said he kept Rigby on the line, trying to calm him down as Saskatoon Police and RCMP arrived.
The call lasted nearly an hour and a half. About halfway through the call a crisis negotiating team showed up, Lapointe said, but Rigby became upset and refused to speak with anyone but him.
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Instead, Lapointe kept his friend on the line while a negotiator wrote him notes on what to say to deescalate the situation.
During the standoff, Lapointe testified that Rigby sounded scared over the phone and flipped between small talk, apologizing and firing rounds out the window.
Lapointe said throughout the call Rigby began slurring his words. He could tell he was intoxicated and begged him to comply with police.
“I could tell he was absolutely terrified,” he said.
“I felt like I knew I was going to lose my best friend, and next thing I know I hear shots.”
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Saskatoon police shot Rigby three times; once in the arm, once in the thigh, and one in the abdomen.
Dr. Jonathan Witt was the receiving physician at Royal University Hospital’s emergency department when Rigby was brought in.
He testified it was about 10 minutes before emergency personal could reach Rigby at the scene, by which point he had “no signs of life” or vitals when paramedics began lifesaving measures.
He was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed he died of blood loss, and had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.26, over double the provincial limit.
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While on the stand, both Martin and Lapointe were asked what they would like to see change in Saskatchewan.
Both said Rigby should have been kept in hospital and given the help he needed, not sent away.
“How do you let somebody walk away from a place when they’re telling you what their intentions are?” Martin asked.
“Hospitals don’t want to deal with addictions or people who struggle with mental health and addictions.”
Lapointe said he believes if his friend had been kept in hospital longer he might still be here today. He said Rigby had terrible experiences in Saskatchewan’s mental health system.
The night he died, while on the phone, Lapointe said Rigby told him, “If you take me to one of those f—— white rooms again I’m not coming with you,” while he tried to convince him to surrender to police.
The inquest is scheduled for the rest of this week.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, please reach out. Resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
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