Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Friendly Giant” Killed by Officer at Winnipeg Remand Centre Identified as Russell Spence (31)

Barely ten months into 2016 and there have already been four death associated with the Winnipeg Remand Centre. One victim who died during some type of struggle with an officer on October 12 has been identified as Russell Spence (31) of Winnipeg. Spence was involved in some sort of altercation with an officer during processing at the remand center. He became unresponsive at the center and was transferred to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Names of victims have typically not been released by authorities but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation learned of Spence’s identity on October 26. His family has come forward asking for information about the specific circumstances of his death.

Russell Spence has been described as friendly and harmless. In the words of his older brother Kevin Bittern: “Russell was a friendly giant. All his friends and everyone knew he would not hurt anybody, or start anything. I find this very suspicious about his death” (quoted in Taylor 2016). Bittern does not believe Spence was resisting because of the man’s previous experiences in dealing with police. He is upset that the family has been kept in the dark about the killing of their loved one. The family is seeking legal assistance and attempting to piece together Russell Spence’s last hours outside. They are looking for any witnesses to the police intervention against the victim.

The Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), the oversight body that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Manitoba, is investigating the death because the struggle was with either a police officer or a corrections officer. The IIU has not revealed which force the officer belonged to. There has been no comment from Winnipeg Police Service.

 

Further Reading

Taylor, Jillian. 2016. “Remand Centre Inmate Who Died after Struggle was a ‘Friendly Giant.’” CBC News. October 26. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/russell-spence-dies-struggle-remand-centre-1.3822179

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Man Dies in Custody after Police Shoot Him with Stun Gun, Coquitlam, BC

What do you do if you come across someone severely beaten and bleeding in a home? If you are RCMP in British Columbia, the answer is shoot them with a stun gun. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines all cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating after a man died in custody in Coquitlam after having been hit with a stun gun by officers.

RCMP claim they were responding to a call regarding a supposedly agitated man possibly trying to break into homes late in the evening of Wednesday, October 19, 2016, in the 1500 block of Balmoral Drive. Upon finding the man severely beaten and bleeding police shot him with a stun gun and entered into a physical confrontation of some sort with the man. He went into medical distress shortly after being taken into custody. Emergency Health Services performed CPR on the man who was taken to hospital. It is reported that he was pronounced dead at hospital shortly before midnight. Additional details have not been released as the IIO investigates.


BC RCMP Kill Man, Lie that He Shot First: No Charges against Officers Responsible

In a September 2014 incident near Valemount, British Columbia, RCMP Emergency Response Team members fired several shots killing 51-year-old John Buehler and injuring his daughter Shanna Buehler. All of this happened in an attempt to arrest the man simply for failing to appear in court. Following an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) the Criminal Justice Branch in BC decided, for reasons that are not yet clear, not to lay charges against the four officers involved in the multiple shootings and killing. This despite the finding by the IIO investigators that Buehler did not shoot at officers as police claimed. Still the Crown decided not to pursue a case against the officers and little more has been said about the attempt by police to justify the shootings and killing by falsely claiming they were only returning fire. The announcement of no charges was released on October 20, 2016, more than two years after the killing.


Still No Oversight, Still No Accountability: After the Founding of the BEI in Québec

It is rather incredible that by the end of 2016 several provinces still do not have distinct agencies to provide some oversight of police in cases in which officers injure or kill civilians. Added to this absurdity is the fact that for those institutions that do exist in various provinces, like the Independent Investigations Office in British Columbia, serious questions about the nature of their independence from police exist.

Québec had long been among the provinces with no oversight agency, The newly formed Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), which investigates serious cases of harm to civilians, including fatalities, involving police, only began its operations in June 2016. This came as a result of an amendment to the Police Act in May 2013. Prior to the launch of the BEI, investigations into cases of police harm to civilians were carried out by the Public Security Minister and one of three major forces, Montreal, Québec City, or the provincial Sûreté du Québec (SQ). This clearly reflected a lack of independence, transparency, and accountability and raised issues of conflict of interest and the blue wall of silence. Yet the new agency has not been well received by victims of police violence and/or their families, critics of police, or community advocates.

One significant advocacy group which has spoken for victims of police violence and their families, and which has focused attention on police violence in the province has spoken publicly in criticism of the BEI. The group Justice for Victims of Police Killings argues that the BEI is lacking in both diversity and independence. They point to, in particular, the police based composition of the agency. In the words of their statement: “We denounce the creation of the of the ‘independent’ police investigation bureau that is made up of 14 of 18 ex-police employees, and 11 former police officers.”

They have called for a meeting with Québec’s Minister of Justice so that victims’ families can raise their concerns and tell their painful stories directly. In support of victims’ families and in order to press for changes to policing, and police oversight, in the province the group held a commemorative vigil in front of the Montreal police association offices on Laurier Street on Saturday, October 22, 2016.


Independent Investigations Office (BC) Report on Police Killing of Hudson Brooks: Crown to Consider Charges

After more than a year, a period in which few details have been provided to the public or family, the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia has finished its report into the police killing of 20-year-old Hudson Brooks. The young man was shot and killed by an officer outside the RCMP detachment in South Surrey on July 18, 2015, under mysterious circumstances which have long called for insight and answers. The report has been forwarded to Crown prosecutors for consideration suggesting charges could be laid against an officer or officers involved.

Hudson Brooks was killed while approaching the RCMP detachment in South Surrey. He was intercepted by police on 152 Street in the early morning of July 18, 2015. He was unarmed and wearing shorts and flip-flops when an officer initially targeted him for unknown reasons. Witnesses have suggested Brooks may have been experiencing some distress and seeking assistance at the time. He was shot and killed a short time after the approach by police. Early reports noted that an officer had been shot, in what seemed an attempt to legitimize police actions in the public eye. It has since been revealed that no weapon other than those of police was found on the scene and it is believed the officer’s injury was police inflicted (perhaps even self-inflicted).

 

Consideration of Charges?

The IIO report has been forwarded to the Crown prosecutors for consideration of charges. This is only done in cases in which the IIO has determined that an officer involved in harm to a civilian may have committed a criminal act. In the words of IIO spokesperson Adan Buckley:

“At the conclusion of an investigation, if the chief civilian director of the IIO concludes that an officer may have committed any offence, then the chief civilian director will refer the case to crown. If it’s concluded the officer has not committed any offence, then the chief civilian director will publish a public report.” (quoted in Johnstone 2016)

While there is some relief in the consideration of charges in this case and the possibility that relevant details about the actions of police the night Hudson Brooks was killed by RCMP, there is little to suggest that police will be held accountable in any meaningful way. It is extremely rare in the Canadian state for officers to be charged when they kill civilians, even under the most clearly dubious and egregious circumstances. The state tends to protect its frontline forces. And Crown prosecutors appear reluctant to jeopardize the close relations they have with police on whose efforts their own success and careers partly depend. Over the brief history of the IIO in British Columbia, 56 reports have been forwarded to Crown for consideration of charges. Those 56 reports have resulted in charges only nine times, a tiny fraction of cases. Five cases remain undetermined.

 

“Justice for Hudson”

Hudson Brooks’ family has worked tirelessly to get answers about the actions of police in killing their loved one. According to his mother Jennifer Brooks: “I wouldn’t say I’m shocked because I really, really believed that this would go to Crown. I was just so happy that they closed it, because it was such a long, long wait” (quoted in Johnstone 2016).

Family and friends have organized a movement for “Justice For Hudson” to raise awareness about Hudson’s killing by police and to gain some sense of accountability for the force and officers involved. They have organized several rallies and marches in South Surrey and outside the RCMP detachment where Hudson Brooks was killed. These have been mass events with hundreds of people participating. This is in many ways unique in the Canadian context where ongoing rallies and protests over police killings have been less common and certainly received less media coverage and public attention than has been the case in the United States. This too s changing as a younger generation in particular has mobilized against police violence in the Canadian state.

The Justice for Hudson movement will continue as the case goes forward to the Crown. In the words of Jennifer Brooks: “We’re not going to wait for six months, seven months or eight months. If we have not heard anything within three months, we will plan another march because we really, really demand justice for Hudson” (quoted in Johnstone 2016).

It remains to be seen if any of the officers involved will be brought to trial. The history in British Columbia and in Canada leaves little cause for optimism

 

Further Reading

Johnstone, Jesse. 2016. “Police Watchdog Sends Hudson Brooks Report to Crown for Charge Consideration.” CBC News. October 21. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/hudson-brooks-charges-1.3815896


Québec Oversight Agency (BEI) to Investigate Police Crash after Victim Dies

The police oversight agency for the province of Québec, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), will now investigate a car crash from August 2016 in which a Gatineau police car collided with a vehicle driven by an 81-year-old man. The decision comes after the man died in hospital on Monday, October 17, almost two months after being injured.

The BEI reports that the Gatineau officer driving the police vehicle was responding to a call when he crashed into a car driven by the 81-year-old man on August 25, 2016. The man was hospitalized for several days before being transferred to a respite care center. It was there that he would die. This is already the 14th case investigated by the BEI since they became operational in June of 2016.


Man Killed in Struggle with Police at Winnipeg Remand Center (October 12, 2016)

A man died following a struggle with police while being processed at the Winnipeg Remand Center on Wednesday, October 12, 2016. The man suffered some sort of medical emergency during the struggle and became unresponsive. He was transported by ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre and died while in hospital.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, the agency that investigates incidents of harm to civilians by police in Winnipeg, sent investigators to the scene directly. Manitoba Corrections is also investigating and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been notified.

The Winnipeg Remand Centre is already the site of local controversy with Manitoba Corrections under fire over the death of Errol Greene earlier in 2016. Greene’s family has maintained that Greene was epileptic and did not have access to his medications over the course of several days. The family has criticized officials for not providing proper details about what happened to their loved one. They are still not clear whether Greene died at the remand center itself or some time later in hospital. The family called for a public inquest into his death in August but the government has still not agreed to this reasonable request.