The body of Kenneth Seymour Michell was discovered Jan. 14, 2021, behind a Williams Lake business a day after he was released by a judge on conditions. (Photo submitted)

The body of Kenneth Seymour Michell was discovered Jan. 14, 2021, behind a Williams Lake business a day after he was released by a judge on conditions. (Photo submitted)

Family looks for answers after Indigenous man dies by suicide following release from custody

System does not care about Indigenous peoples, says First Nations Leadership Council

The family of a 26-year-old First Nations man who died by suicide in Williams Lake, B.C. just hours after being released from RCMP custody is going public in the hopes it never happens to anyone else.

Kenneth Seymour Michell of the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation in Pavilion was found dead behind a Williams Lake business in the 1100 block of Broadway Avenue South at 6 a.m. Jan. 14, 2021, after having strangled himself with his shoelace.

His family and friends remain devastated and continue to grieve one month after burying him at Xaxli’p First Nation’s cemetery near Lillooet.

“It’s crazy how many hearts he touched,” Michell’s aunt Georgina Lazore told Black Press Media from her home in Cornwall, Ont.

Lazore said Michell had many friends and was close with his large family, including seven siblings (one predeceased). He spent most of his teenage years with his grandparents in Pavilion, B.C. Michell was a hard worker with good work ethics, working in forest fires, fuel management, and he had the opportunity to learn about high angle low angle rope rescue, she said.

“Somewhere in his short life he started to struggle with addictions (alcohol and drugs) and mental illness (such as) suicide, overdoses, living the fast life partying. Also, lots of trouble with the law in and out of jail mostly stemming from addictions.”

Lazore said Michell never stayed in one place for long. Most recently found himself in Williams Lake where he was taken into police custody on Jan. 11 for outstanding warrants after RCMP were called to a Williams Lake residence in the 700 block of Midnight Drive regarding a suspicious person.

Read More: Cariboo-Prince George MP’s suicide prevention hotline motion passes unanimously

At that time, police were concerned for Michell’s welfare after he was arrested, noted the Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO), which investigated the RCMP’s involvement into Michell’s sudden death.

Lazore said her nephew even used an officer’s phone to call his uncle when he was in distress because he knew no one in Williams Lake.

The investigation found Crown Counsel also raised concerns during Michell’s Jan. 13 bail hearing and opposed his release.

The court, however, chose not to detain Michell, who told police and others he was experiencing suicidal thoughts.

According to the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), who are assisting the family in bringing forward their concerns, Michell was released on conditions and dropped off in Williams Lake in the middle of winter wearing only a sweater. A friend had attempted to pick him up from the courthouse but was told he would be transported to Kamloops, where he called home.

Michell was found dead early the next morning behind the Dog N Suds Restaurant.

Less than two weeks after his death, the IIO concluded police actions/inactions “did not play any role” in Michell’s death, and that both police and Crown Counsel took positions that attempted to prevent it.

Read More: B.C.’s police watchdog finds Williams Lake RCMP, Crown tried to prevent death of man in need of help

FNLC is calling for further investigation including reprimands to the RCMP and judge involved in the case.

BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said the entire judicial system continues to harm First Nations people despite commitments to reform the justice and policing system, including support for the First Nations Justice Strategy a year ago.

“The strategy included a commitment to training and education to reduce bias among frontline workers, RCMP and judges in the justice system,” Teegee stated in a news release Jan. 24.

“Did this judge receive that training? And if so, what made (the judge) think Kenneth Michell should have been released without support? How did the RCMP and Sheriffs’ Office think it was OK to leave him in the cold, on the street miles from home?”

Secretary-treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson said Michell should be alive today.

“Our people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and not brushed aside like Kenneth was,” Wilson said.

“The officials involved must be removed, and the broken so-called justice system must be repaired to ensure that there is no space for the current widespread racism and discrimination toward Indigenous peoples.”

Michell’s loss is even more painful for Lazore who believes his death was preventable.

“It’s so hard,” she said. “It never should have happened.”


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

First NationsLaw and justice

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society communications officer Brianna van de Wijngaard reflects on World Water Day March 22. (Photo submitted)
DOWN TO EARTH: World Water Day means something different for everyone

This year’s World Water Day theme was Valuing Water

Williams Lake Cycling Club president Shawn Lewis (from left), Jeremy Stoward of New Path Forestry, WLCC Boitanio Bike Park director Andrew Hutchinson accept a cheque from Williams Lake and District Credit Union investment specialist Abigail King. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Cycling Club gets bike park donation to bolster upgrades, maintenance

Plans are to complete three rideable lines each year, he added

Forestry Ink columnist Jim Hilton. (File photo)
FOREST INK: Credit, COVID and climate crises facing the world

Concerning COVID, Mr. Carney feels we have had the proper response by showing solidarity

Columnist David Zirnhelt’s grandsons practice some fun roping on his granddaughter at the family ranch. (David ZIrnhelt photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
RANCH MUSINGS: Roping, is that an essential skill for a ranch hand?

We all know someone who has had a digit reducing accident while roping

School District board members discuss business at a regular board meeting prior to the pandemic. (Angie Mindus/Williams Lake Tribune file photo)
Ministry of Education gives special shout out to School District 27 at start of Education Week

District board and administration recognized for creating outdoor learning spaces

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read