Devon LaFleur, a young man struggling with mental health issues, was killed by Toronto police who had been informed of his mental illness and of the fact that the “weapon” he held was a broken pellet gun that did not work. His family had shared that information with Ottawa police who contacted Toronto police about the young man. Still police rained down at least 21 bullets on him striking him eight times. On June 6, 2017 the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) ruled, incredibly, that despite this Toronto police were “more than justified” in killing LaFleur. More than justified.
Rena LaFleur, Devon LaFleur’s mother, attributes the killing of her son to a failure of communication by police and inadequate, improper, or insufficient training of police in interacting with people experiencing mental health issues. LaFleur had schizophrenia and was apparently not on his medication the night police killed him.
According to Rena LaFleur, police disregarded the information they had, instead choosing to take a typically aggressive and confrontational approach with the young man. In her words:
“They created a situation in which they were confronting [him]. I can’t see how they can possibly justify that that is a viable mental health protocol. It’s shameful. I find it’s just a shame and many more people are going to die, especially the most vulnerable people in our communities” (quoted in 2017).
Rena LaFleur reveals that she had spoken with police about her son’s situation and there was a plan to have plainclothes Toronto officers attend the home of a friend with whom Devon LaFleur was meeting. She suggests: “They had a lot of time. They had what seemed to be a good plan in place and they changed it at the last minute” (quoted in 2017). She does not know why.
What did happen is that four uniformed police officers arrived at the friend’s house in marked cruisers. Officers yelled at the distressed man throughout the encounter and drew their guns on him. According to the SIU one officer fired 12 to 13 shots, the second fired eight to nine shots, while the third fired one bullet.
Sascha LaFleur, Devon LaFleur’s sister suggests: “So how do you say [we’ll shoot] to somebody who’s in psychosis, that believes that the angels will protect him from the bullets. You’re provoking him. There needs to be other methods of de-escalation, not lethal force, because you can’t come back from that” (quoted in 2017).
As Rena LaFleur puts it, painfully directly: “He didn’t have to die” (quoted in 2017).
Fagan, Laurie and Joe Lofaro. 2017. “It’s Shameful’: Family of Mentally Ill Man Killed by Police Baffled by Lack of Charges.” CBC News. June 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/family-disappointed-no-charges-devon-lafleur-1.4148792