July 21st, 2024

Sister wants voice for mentally ill man allegedly beaten, bound on Saskatchewan farm

By Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press on January 14, 2024.

Shanda Tansowny stands next to her brother, Chris Hawkins, in an undated handout photo. Hawkins died in September 2022 after he was allegedly assaulted by two farmers near Melfort, Sask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Shanda Tansowny **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Shanda Tansowny says her brother loved talking with farmers.

Chris Hawkins went to a Saskatchewan farm in August 2022 to find work, says his sister. Butthe farm’s owner and a family member allegedly beat him bloody and bound him with cable ties.

Hawkins, a 45-year-old former agronomist, died about a month later from what the Saskatchewan Coroners Service said were complications from pre-existing health problems.

“His whole entire career, when he was capable of having that, was always based on the best interest of a farmer,” Tansowny said in a phone interview from Calgary.

“He was super passionate about agriculture, which is why this is sort of a horrible coincidence.”

Hawkins lived alone in Melfort, a city of 5,700 people northeast of Saskatoon.

He struggled with his mental health, his sister said, adding he had schizophrenia and was an alcoholic. He drank to quiet the voices in his head.

The day of the alleged assault on the Melfort-area property, RCMP arrested and charged Hawkins. Six months later, they charged the two men on the farm.

Four months after that, RCMP determined two Mounties were negligent in the case.

“It doesn’t matter how healthy or how ill he was on that day,” Tansowny said.

“He did not deserve to be beaten.”

Adam Mclean, 36, and Peter Mclean, 60, who live near Melfort, face charges of aggravated assault and forcible confinement.

Peter Mclean also faces a charge of uttering threats, and Adam Mclean is charged with assault with a weapon. RCMP have not said how the men are related.

They are scheduled to appear in court Monday. They have not entered pleas and no trial date has been set.

Defence lawyers representing the men did not respond to requestsfor comment.

The charges against Hawkins – uttering threats and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose – were withdrawn after he died. He had also been ticketed for trespassing.

A preliminary autopsy report says there is no evidence trauma played a role in his death. It says Hawkins died due to an upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage caused by pre-existing health conditions, noting he had a history of severe alcoholic liver cirrhosis.

The coroners service continues to investigate, said RCMP.

After the alleged assault, Tansowny said her brother was flown to a Saskatoon hospital.

He told her there that he had been going to different farms in the area looking for work, thinking he could get a job driving a combine, she said. He needed money, as his power and water had been cut off.

“He pulled into this farm and nobody was there. He was sitting in his car waiting, taking pictures of the combines,” Tansowny said.

He was then beaten “so badly he didn’t really remember most of it,” said his sister.

A few weeks later, he was discharged from the hospital. But he wasn’t feeling well and went back days later and died.

Tansowny said that’s when she began asking the RCMP questions. She learned no one had been charged in relation to the alleged beating, but her brother was.

None of it made sense, she said.

Tansowny filed a complaint over how Mounties handled the case.

In June, Sgt. Conrad Logan with Prince Albert RCMP determined one of the responding officers, Const. Alphonse Noey, was negligent as he failed to properly investigate what happened.

In his report, provided to Tansowny, Logan says Noey rushed to arrest Hawkins without gathering sufficient evidence and made minimal documentation in his notes. The officer was on the scene for 10 minutes and 30 seconds.

The report says Noey found Hawkins on his stomach, his hands tied behind his back with cable ties. The two accused were standing nearby.

It says the property owner told the officer that Hawkins had brokenonto the farm and threatened “gutting him.” Noey assumed Hawkins had a knife but did not see a weapon, says the report.

The officer then handcuffed Hawkins, placed him in the back seat of the police car and said he would take Hawkins to hospital.

Noey did not document that there was dried blood on Hawkins’ swollen face, says the report, and he threw away the cable ties.

Hawkins told Noey the men had assaulted him, the report says. Hawkins also told the officer he wanted to press charges.

“I was just trying to take pictures of the combines,” Hawkins told the officer in an in-car video recording quoted in the report.

“(They) both tag teamed me and beat the crap out of me and they loved doing it. They did it two, three times.”

Video cameras had alerted the property owner that Hawkins was in the yard, the report says, but the officer did not immediately get the video footage.

Thatwas “one of the biggest shortcomings” of the investigation, Logan says in the report. And he apologized on behalf of the RCMP.

Noey went on leave in September 2022 and was to be provided with “operational guidance” upon his return, the report adds.

RCMP said in an email in December that Noey’s leave status is considered personal information and they cannot comment on whether he returned to work.

In his report, Logan says another officer, Sgt. Darren Simons, was also negligent for later telling Tansowny that police couldn’t lay charges against the accused men because Hawkins had died.

The report says while deaths can make prosecutions more difficult, the determining factor is whether there’s sufficient evidence.

“Following a more thorough investigation into the incident, it was determined that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges,” Logan says.

Simons has since retired, the report says, so he is not subject to “remedial measures.”

The Canadian Press made attempts to reach Noey and Simons for comment, through Melfort RCMP and social media, but did not receive a response.

RCMP said the force is committed to completing quality investigations.

“When concerns are brought to our attention, they are fulsomely investigated,” said a statement. “If they are determined to be founded, we are committed to taking actions to improve, as in this circumstance.”

They said they are unable to elaborate on details of the alleged assault so they can preserve the integrity of the court process.

Tansowny said she’s speaking out because her brother deserved a voice.

She said tried to get him help in the community, but it was hard to find resources.

“I’ve had a very difficult relationship with my brother over the years, because of his mental health,” she said.

“But I’ve always been there for him. I’ve always loved him.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2024.

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