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'My child is dead': Family wants answers after fatal police encounter

Last Updated Jun 19, 2020 at 2:28 pm MST

A memorial laid at the site where Stephanie Pantalone died during an arrest attempt from Calgary police in June of 2019. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)
Summary

On June 19, 2019, Stephanie Pantalone died after falling from a balcony in SE Calgary during an arrest attempt.

One year later, ASIRT continues to investigate and the family is frustrated by a lack of answers.

A memorial is placed at the scene of her death, as the family wants police to know they won't forget.

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — One year since Stephanie Pantalone fell to her death from a fifth-floor balcony in Chinatown while Calgary police executed a search warrant, her family is still searching for answers.

It was late on the evening of June 18, 2019, when police surrounded the apartment complex at 1st Street and Riverfront Avenue SE to arrest a man and woman wanted in connection to a recent shooting.

Shortly after midnight, Andrew Carter left the room to go outside and was arrested by officers waiting outside the building.

Inside their room, Pantalone was sleeping in bed and according to her mother, recovering from a bout with the flu.

Not much is known about what happened next, but before the hour was over Pantalone had fallen from the balcony and was transported to Foothills Hospital in critical condition where she later died.

She was 31-years-old.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was assigned to the case as Pantalone died during a police investigation. However, a news release from the Calgary police makes note that no officers were inside the room at the time and had no physical contact with her.

Officers at the scene are considered witnesses and remain on active duty.

Exactly one year later, the results of the investigation have yet to be released.

Pantalone’s sister visits the scene to hold a late-night vigil at the spot where she fell.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” said Cassandra Miron.

Shortly after midnight, she placed a small sign, balloons, candles, and a photo of Pantalone next to the wall of the apartment building.

Her mother, Chantal Anderson who lives in Ontario, also holds a vigil at her home and talks to her through video chat on their phones.

Looking up at the fifth-floor balcony, Miron still doesn’t understand how it could have happened, and why they have not received any more details from the police.

“Where was she going? She knew she was caught; she knew they were surrounded. She would lay down, she would take her lumps, she would call mommy,” she said. “She was a smart cookie.”

They struggle to light candles arranged in the shape of a heart, joking that Pantalone is playing with them by blowing them out, tears welling in Miron’s eyes as she continues to try and process everything to this point.


Cassandra Miron lights candles at a memorial where her sister died.

Due to the absence of information from police, the family has tried to conduct its own fact-finding mission, allowing them to piece together some elements of that fateful night.

A friend had spoken to a neighbour who lived on the second floor and played a short audio recording that detailed what he saw. He was at home and wasn’t aware of what was happening until police entered and demanded they search his balcony for a purse that Pantalone had dropped as she fell. They also mentioned the possibility of a handgun being at the scene.

An employee at a nearby restaurant frequented by delivery drivers added that he didn’t recall seeing anything on that night and figured the police presence in the area was related to another neighbouring business.

Another neighbour said he heard a very loud bang that woke him up, but no explanation as to what it could have been.

The family had also received many documents relating to the investigation after Carter had been to court, including details of a drug warrant on the address. They had also spoken to him several times, where they learned of him allegedly being abused by officers and how they initially tried to manipulate him into a confession after his arrest.

It has been a long year for the family, with events stemming back several years and leading them to this apartment building.

In Ontario, Carter was wanted in connection to a home invasion and later left for Alberta along with Pantalone.

Anderson said that while her daughter was not directly connected with some criminal activities that may have been happening, she did help in some respects such as renting out short-term apartments like the room in Chinatown.

“Stephanie was smart and resourceful and hardly from the street,” she said. “She was a very good-looking girl with a pretty high IQ.”

She added that Pantalone was closely attached to Carter and was ultimately hoping to help him lead a better life but still got sucked into a cycle of violence in Calgary as well.

In May of 2019, there was a shooting outside the Drop-In Centre where a woman was injured.

Police began searching for a man and a woman who fled the scene, but they did not have any firm descriptions.

Weeks later, Anderson said she was on the phone with her daughter as she was walking in a park in Chinatown and officers approached her.

“She said to me, mom, there’s three cops walking towards me right now and honestly I think I’m about to be arrested,” recalled Anderson.

She went peacefully and said that when Pantalone was interviewed by police, they only asked her about a woman who was suspected in connection with the shooting and had a vague description of somebody with curly hair — fitting the description of 19-year-old Carter.

Anderson said Pantalone went along with it and did not correct the investigators that they were searching for a man, told them about a fictional woman, and she was let go.

“She’s made them look very foolish,” said Anderson.

But eventually, police appeared to connect the dots as the family believes they were trailing the pair for weeks and identified Carter, leading them to set up the high-risk search warrant at around midnight on June 19, 2019.

Carter left the apartment to go outside and noticed an unmarked police vehicle. Immediately knowing something would be happening, he ran around the corner of the building to try and lose their tail, while texting Pantalone that police were there. She did not respond, as she was sleeping.

Police caught up with him about a block away and took him down.

“He put his hands in the air, they said kneel down on the ground, they said ‘don’t look at us’, so he put his face down. They shone a flashlight in his face — automatic instinct is to look up. The second he looked up, he got kicked to the face, then he got a kick to the ribs, then they beat him on the sidewalk,” Anderson alleges.

“They beat the s*** out of him.”

Miron claims police broke Carter’s nose. He also has a large scar on the side of his face.

RELATED: Alleged incidents highlight police brutality in Alberta

Carter has told the family that while at the police station, investigators first said Pantalone was in another room writing a statement, but he called their bluff and didn’t say anything. Then, after being placed in a cell, they told her she had fallen and was dead.

While he originally faced around two dozen charges, he is now facing nine firearms-related offences and is due to go to trial in September.

Everything that happened in the apartment is unclear to Anderson and her family. They have many questions about how exactly Pantalone would have fallen from the balcony following the arrest — especially because of the fact she was terrified of heights.

“Petrified, not afraid. Petrified. A fear of heights her entire life. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” said Anderson.

Also, due to the fact she had regular contact with her daughter, Anderson knew that Pantalone was sick with the flu and had not been out of bed and the events seem inconsistent with what she has been told by police.

“This is what they’re saying, that they tried to get contact through the cellphone and through a bullhorn, and no one ever made contact with her and she took flight off a fifth floor f***ing balcony to her death?”


Evidence markers on the ground outside an apartment building where Stephanie Pantalone fell to her death on June 19, 2019.

Initially, when Anderson had no luck contacting her daughter in the morning like she normally would, she searched for news about anything happening in Calgary and came across the initial reports of somebody who had died after falling from a balcony in Chinatown.

She frantically called police to try and get information, was put on hold several times, and even hung up on at one point, until she was able to speak to somebody who told her that Pantalone was dead.

Miron added that they were not contacted by staff at the Foothills Hospital because she was brought in as a Jane Doe, which they find odd. After all, police would have known her identity ahead of executing the search warrant.

Within the next couple of days, Anderson had flown to Calgary to find out more, but ASIRT would not reveal any information about an active investigation. She wasn’t even able to view the medical examiner’s assessment.

She received a small package of belongings that were found on Pantalone’s person when she was taken to the hospital. Although Pantalone had arrived in Calgary with two full hockey bags of possessions, the family has never received them from investigators.

“They brought me a bag of bloody clothes that were cut off her body at the hospital, and an old purse,” she said.

There was also a smashed cellphone and a pack of cigarettes found with her at the time of her death, and Anderson questioned why her daughter would have grabbed these things if she intended to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony.

“ASIRT is trying to tell me she was on the other side of the f***ing balcony, which makes absolutely no (sense) to me.”

“My child is not afraid of police, because she knows there’s nothing she can’t get out of,” she added. “My child was not a runner.”

She also received an urn with her daughter’s cremated ashes, as it would have been too expensive to transport her body across the country.

Everything taken into account, there are more questions than answers as time continues to pass.

“My child is dead,” she said. “And why?”

Fast forwarding, Anderson said she has also had consistent contact with an ASIRT investigator looking into the case. According to him, the investigation has been completed and sent off to Executive Director Susan Hughson’s office for review.

The family has also received inconsistent, and sometimes disconcerting, information such as learning that all body cameras worn by the officers at the scene had apparently “malfunctioned.”

The investigator at ASIRT declined to comment as the matter is under investigation, and Calgary police also would not provide any further information.

Anderson is suspicious that there may be a cover-up, and the case brings to mind a recent incident in Toronto where 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a 24th-floor balcony during an arrest attempt by police.

Dr. Kelly Sundberg, a criminologist at Mount Royal University, says it is reasonable to have some doubts in the process but added that ASIRT is under a large amount of stress.

“The problem is they are so overworked,” he said. “They only have so many officers, so many resources, and their hands are tied with what they can say to the public. This ultimately, especially in this current atmosphere, causes some to say ‘well, this is a cover-up.'”

Sundberg does have faith in the system and the work done by ASIRT and says more responsibility needs to be taken by governments to give it more resources and funding so that cases can be managed more expediently.

Nevertheless, still trying to understand why her daughter died, Anderson said she will not give up the fight and just needs closure.

“The actual truth died with her that day,” she said. “But the little bit that I may be able to get, I will get.”

Back to the alley — surrounded by dumpsters, discarded needles, and a pile of shoes — Miron is hopeful they can get some answers. Whatever the reason behind her sister’s balcony fall, they just want the truth, especially to ease the pain her mother experiences.

“We definitely want to make sure that they know that it’s not forgotten.”