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Audio tape revives anger of dead woman's parents about RCMP conduct

Mark and Rosemarie Surakka, at their Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., home, have probed their daughter’s death for three years.

rick collins The Globe and Mail

The 911 call came at 10:41 p.m. A resident in rural Mission, B.C., phoned in with a report of what were believed to be six gunshots. The caller was certain it was not firecrackers.

"Six gunshots in a row and a crash," Constable Mike White said minutes later to a dispatcher, and he laughed. "Don't you love this?" the dispatcher said. "Yeah, I'll head out," Constable White said.

The officer drove out to Greenwood Drive in an unmarked car. But he did not leave his car when he arrived at the scene 18 minutes later. He did not speak to the neighbour who made the 911 call, and did not go to the house where the noise apparently came from.

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Police records show he cleared the call three minutes after his arrival. He spent seven minutes electronically filling in a report and then responded to another call.

Four days later, police were called back to the home. They found Guthrie McKay, 33, who was deceased, and his girlfriend, Lisa Dudley, 37, in severe medical distress. She was taken to hospital by air ambulance, but died en route.

Ms. Dudley would be alive today if Constable White had done his job properly, her mother, Rosemarie Surakka, said Thursday in an interview.

The incident happened on Sept. 18, 2008. The audio recording of the exchange between the police officer and the dispatcher was released recently to Ms. Surakka and her husband, Mark, in response to an access to information request, reviving their outrage over RCMP conduct.

The Surakkas had tried repeatedly to hold the RCMP accountable for their daughter's death. The RCMP conducted an administrative review immediately afterwards. Unsatisfied with police investigating themselves, the Surakkas filed a complaint. Three additional reviews were undertaken. Also, the officer faced a disciplinary hearing this year.

The hearing lasted less than an hour, Mr. Surakka said. The officer pleaded guilty to disgraceful conduct, and was formally reprimanded and docked one day's pay. Sanctions for disgraceful conduct range from a written reprimand up to dismissal.

The Surakkas said they are still upset over not being allowed to speak at the disciplinary hearing before penalties were handed out. The audiotape of the exchange between the officer and the dispatcher was not played at the hearing. Scathing reports about the officer from the internal reviews were not submitted. "It was farcical," Ms. Surakka said. "It was a horrible miscarriage of justice. My daughter had no voice in there at all."

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She added: "The adjudication hearing was our last hope. We were thinking he would be held accountable for what he did. If one day's pay docking is accountability, I think there is something really wrong with humanity here, with the police force."

Since the incident, Constable White has been promoted to corporal and continues to work in the Lower Mainland.

RCMP spokesman Rob Vermeulen said in an interview he could not comment on whether Ms. Dudley would be alive today if the officer had checked out the house when the 911 call first came in.

He said both sides agreed to a statement of facts before penalties were imposed at the disciplinary hearing. The events had an impact on the force, he said: A year after the incident, the RCMP issued a policy directive highlighting the importance of first responders to speak to complainants. "That was not done in this case," he said. "The family made a complaint, they felt the first response was inadequate because the member did not follow up with the complainant. We agreed with them, and senior management in the district apologized for the omission."

This summer, the RCMP arrested three people – Surrey resident Jack Woodruff, Mission resident Bruce Main and Justin MacKinnon of Sydney, N.S. – in the case. They have been charged with first-degree murder of Ms. Dudley and Mr. McKay. No date has been set for their trial.

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