Category Archives: British Columbia

IIO Determines RCMP Killed Man the Force Claimed Killed Self

There has long been a concern, a suspicion, that police claim victims of police shootings have died of self-inflicted wounds when, in fact, they were killed by officers. (That suspicion has been particularly strong in cases where police investigate police.) One such case was confirmed on Monday, June 26, 2017 when the Internal Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia, the oversight agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians overturned an RCMP claim that the June 18, 2017, death of a Lower Mainland man had died of a self-inflicted wound despite police firing shots at the man. The IIO has determined that the man killed in Port Coquitlam, in fact, died from a police bullet.

In a media release on Juen 26, IIO spokesperson Marten Youssef declared: “Initial reports made to the IIO … by the RCMP, suggested that a distraught male may have shot himself following an exchange of gunfire with police. Following an autopsy, it has been determined that the male’s death was not self-inflicted.” In the initial, confused, report from the RCMP the force had made it seem publicly that the man had killed himself. That was the impression they shaped for the public.

The IIO  reported that it had interviewed six police officers and 30 witnesses over the past week. They have additionally reported that in the hours after the police killing a male relative of the man killed also received “serious injuries.” That situation is still being investigated. No police officers were injured.

While recognizing the numerous problems with the IIO, one can speculate how the initial RCMP claims might have been treated had another police force investigated the present case. RCMP distorting facts for public management after killing someone is not unique in the province as the killing of Robert Dziekanski showed.


IIO Investigates after Man Dies During Police Encounter, Shots Fired

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, is investigating the death of a man during an encounter with police in which shots were fired by police. Publicly available details are sketchy at the moment but it is suggested by the IIO that RCMP responded to a report of a distraught man threatening to harm himself outside a home in Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver, Sunday June 18, 2017. The IIO statement is unclear and suggests only that the man fired shots  into the air, yet there is an investigation into whether his injuries were self-inflicted. Police are said to have fired weapons during the encounter and the victim was found dead after RCMP fired.


IIO Investigates as Victoria Woman Dies Only Hours After Interaction with Police

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the oversight body that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, is investigating after a woman was found dead in the Victoria suburb of Oak Bay around 9: 30 on the morning of Saturday, May 27, 2017. Police officers had some interaction with the woman Friday evening, hours before she was found dead but neither Victoria police nor the IIO are providing any more information to the public. This lends a curious air of mystery to the situation. The BC Coroners Service is also investigating. The victim has not been named.


Bogus “Suicide By Cop” Used to Excuse Constable Musicco in Killing Rhett Mutch but No Reasons Given for Inquest Finding

This project has documented the bogus nature of “suicide by cop” as a means to excuse police killings of civilians. It is a form of copaganda used as a legitimation tool by so-called oversight agencies (none of which are autonomous and independent from police with powers of compulsion) and state inquests to justify police killings of civilians to an anxious and critical public. The reasons for the bogus nature of this claim are numerous and have been laid out here previously. The claim is only applied after the fact in diverse situations and ignores the fact that unlike in other suicides the victim is killed, not by their own actions, but by the conscious decision of someone who chooses to use lethal force rather choosing not to kill.

Once again this phony “finding” has been used to legitimate the lethal actions of a killer cop. The killing of 20-year-old Victoria youth Rhett Mutch by police constable John Musicco has been declared a suicide by a coroner’s inquest in findings announced May 19, 2017. Incredibly the inquest report offered no reasons for why the jury classified the killing as a suicide. Constable Musicco had already been cleared by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the body that examines cases of police violence against civilians in British Columbia.

Musicco shot Mutch in the neck killing him  on November 1, 2014. At the time he was shot the young man was alone in the basement of his mother’s house and posed no threat to his mother (who was safely outside the house) or to the general public.

The report even noted in detail an exchange between Marney Mutch, the victim’s mother, and police officers in which she told them that her son would not hurt anyone. She also informed them that drawn guns would only frighten her distraught son further. She told the inquest that one of the officers held a gun that looked like “a bazooka.” This is another problem of “suicide by cop” excuses. They ignore the role of police actions in changing victim’s interactions. In her view, as stated in the report: “This is really overkill.” She wanted to stay in the house with her son but officers refused her request.


Killer Cop John Musicco Testifies at Coroner’s Inquest into Killing of Rhett Mutch

More than two years ago a Victoria mother’s plea for help for her son ended with police taking the young man’s life. Rhett Mutch was shot and killed inside his mom’s home by Constable John Musicco. Mutch posed no threat to the public. In a 911 call made by Marney Mutch she told the operator that her son would not do anything to physically hurt her. While Musicco was, predictably, cleared of any wrongdoing in killing Rhett Mutch by the provincial investigation unit for British Columbia, a coroner’s inquest is looking into the killing.

Rhett Mutch was killed by Constable Musicco on November 1, 2014. Marney Mutch had called 911 after her son broke into the basement of her home on Dallas Road in Victoria. Several police officers entered the home, killing Mutch within only minutes of their arrival.

The inquest which started May 15, 2017 has focused on misinformation apparently passed from the 911 operator to police. In the 911 call, which was played for the coroner’s jury, Marney Mutch said that her son had a knife, but would not use it to hurt her and further told the operator that he was holding it by his stomach. In the dispatch audio, a police dispatcher is heard saying that Rhett Mutch was holding the knife to his throat.

Victoria Police Sergeant Gregory Holmes,  the supervisor the day of the incident testified to the jury on Monday, May 15 but could not answer why police responded with force if Marney Mutch was not in danger and simply wanted help for her son. It is not clear either why police went after Rhett Mutch who was by then alone in the house, his mother having left safely when police arrived.


Audio of RCMP Killing of Hudson Brooks Posted Online

A matter of seconds. That was all the time that transpired before Surrey RCMP officers decided to shoot and kill Hudson Brooks after encountering the youth,  as revealed in newly released audio of the killing.

Most of the significant questions about the RCMP killing of Hudson Brooks outside an RCMP community policing detachment in south Surrey, British Columbia remain unanswered almost two years after the 20-year old was shot by police on July 18, 2015. His family has persistently sought answers, both of police and the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the unit that examines police harm to civilians in the province.

In March 2017 police audio of the killing of Hudson Brooks was posted on YouTube. Notably, the clip was not released to family by police who have been uncommunicative regarding the killing. The audio was apparently posted by a user who regularly uploads recordings of police-involved incidents from radio traffic and scanners. The 2 minutes and 41 seconds of audio reveal the chaos of police actions and confirm the quick move by officers to deploy lethal force with virtually no interaction with, or attempt to communicate with the young man who would become their victim.

After hearing the audio, Jennifer Brooks, Hudson Brooks’ mother responded:  “It was devastating. It was so heartbreaking. There was no ‘stop, put up your hands,’ nothing. Within seconds of them calling upon him, he was shot. He didn’t stand a chance. How this went so wrong so quickly is unfathomable” (quoted in Chan 2017).

The audio confirmed what the family and some commentators have managed to piece together about the killing, from witnesses and available limited reports. Up front a female voice is heard describing Hudson Brooks. At the 52 second point, a male voice is heard saying: “I got something right here coming directly at me.” In a matter of mere seconds later: “I need help now. I need help now.” Then the call of “shots fired.”

The tape does confirm what many have suspected for some time, that the RCMP officer who was shot during the encounter actually shot herself. In the audio a female voice can be heard saying, “I shot myself.” This is followed by a male voice calling for emergency services: “Suspect is critical. We need a code. We need it now.” This is noteworthy because police initially used the shooting of an officer to suggest to the public that Hudson Brooks was armed and inflicted the wound, thus justifying, in their view, the deployment of lethal force.

The IIO has requested that the recording be taken down. Jennifer Brooks, however, says that while she would not listen too it again she supports it being publicly available so long as it does not impact the ongoing IIO investigation. In her  words: “Otherwise, the public needs to hear what happened” (quoted in Chan 2017). And answers are needed now. Why did police shoot? And why did they jump to shoot so quickly? Why did officers panic to such an extent that one would shoot herself and what does this say about the safety of any public into which such panicky officers are deployed? Too much time has passed with minimal to no information from police or the IIO.

 

The video can be found at:

 

Further Reading

Chan, Cheryl. 2017. “Audio of Surrey RCMP Shooting of Hudson Brooks Posted Online.” Vancouver Sun. March 30. http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/he-didnt-stand-a-chance-audio-of-police-involved-shooting-of-hudson-brooks-posted-online


Death by Delay: Police Stonewall Investigations into Killer Cops

The notion of independent oversight and investigations of police in Canada is a myth. Police have numerous methods for interfering with and obstructing investigations, derailing and diverting them to ensure charges are never brought against officers who kill and the identities of killer cops remain hidden. Among the effective ways in which police forces, killer cops, and their colleagues have frustrated victims’ families and the public more broadly is through various delay tactics such as not releasing information, asking to see incident video before filing reports, and non-cooperation on all levels with investigators. And there is nothing investigative units can do about it within existing frameworks. As the saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied” even in the state’s own terms  (but one should never expect the same system that police are part of to deliver anything resembling justice).

This has a real impact. In addition to leaving grieving loved ones desperate for information, it has the material legal impact of ensuring that charges cannot be brought in a timely manner. Thus trials cannot start in a timely fashion and, as a result, even when officers are charged their lawyers can get charges dropped on the basis of undue delay. A nice set up.

At this point investigative units have no mechanism to compel police forces and officers to cooperate in a meaningful manner with investigations. That is they have no legal mechanism to acquire needed information, including notes from involved officers, and no enforcement mechanism to hold recalcitrant officers to standards of cooperation. They, furthermore, have pursued no legal means to charge uncooperative officers or their managers.

 

Delay in British Columbia

As one example from British Columbia, the grieving family of Myles Gray has waited almost two years for even basic details and some answers about the killing of their loved one by police after being trapped in a backyard. They have not received any. Gray’s parents have not even been told how he died. Brutally they have only recently learned that the IIO’s work has been delayed because the officers involved are refusing to give any more statements (Lindsay 2017).

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is notoriously behind in its investigations taking unacceptable amounts of time to conclude reports, even by their own admission. The IIO currently has 12 open death or severe injury cases involving Vancouver police (Lindsay 2017).

The level of obstruction and non-cooperation exercised by the Vancouver Police Department and the IIO recently resulted in a legal challenge from the investigative body. In March of 2017 Bert Phipps, the IIO’s interim chief civilian director, filed a petition in BC Supreme Court to rule in the fatal shooting by police of Daniel Peter Rintoul in 2016. An incredible total of seven officers who witnessed the killing have refused to be interviewed by the IIO in that case. In that case the officers are making the ludicrous demand that they be allowed first to watch cellphone and security-camera video footage of the shooting before giving any statements.

Watching video ahead of time would clearly distort officers’ views of overall events, a position reinforced by virtually all available research on the matter. Psychological studies conclude that watching video of an incident may distort officers’ memories of events that took place off-camera (Lindsay 2017). Recognizing this, in 2016 the civilian heads of each investigative unit in Canada signed on to a model policy agreeing that police officers watching video prior to providing a statement would “almost inevitably influence a witness account and diminish its investigative value” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). Their policy recommends instead for a two-stage interview process, where witness officers may be allowed to watch video only after giving an initial statement and then clarify their evidence (Lindsay 2017).

The court process is itself a slow one that could stretch over years. A similar case involving a lack of cooperation by a Vancouver officer with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner was not resolved until 20 months after filing of the first petition. In that case, only decided in 2017, a judge ordered the constable to attend interviews with investigators (Lindsay 2017).

 

Situation Dire in Ontario

The situation involving investigations is dire in all of the larger provinces (where there are more cases of police lethal use of force) and particularly acute in Ontario and British Columbia. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario is the oldest such unit in the country and is viewed as the “gold standard” for such units, achieving even a global level of recognition. Yet its own record over the last few years is troubling. According to the unit’s annual report, ironically delivered nine months late, a mere 28 percent of cases wrapped by the SIU in 2015 were completed within 30 business days. That is a decline from the 33 per cent wrapped within the same time frame in 2014 (Toronto Star 2017). Those numbers are both a steep drop from the nearly three-quarters of cases wrapped within 30 days in 2012 and 2013. And it should be pointed out by those, like investigators in British Columbia who point to high case loads, 2012 and 2013 were years in which the SIU had comparable or significantly higher new case loads than in either 2014 or 2015 (Toronto Star 2017). The SIU has recently claimed that it will not even continue to achieve its internal goal of 30 days for investigations because of the difficulties faced in pursuing cases now. One can surmise that much of this difficulty stems from the obstruction and non-cooperation of police forces, associations, and officers.

As it stands there is no hard deadline for the SIU for completing investigations. They can take as long as they like. A report commissioned by the government in Ontario and undertaken by Michael Tulloch, a judge with Ontario’s appeal court, has initiated some limited rethinking of these issues. The Tulloch report recommends a set deadline for the SIU of 120 days. He further suggested that where that is not met the unit must report to the public at that point with additional reports every 60 days they go over from there. Tulloch also recommended ensuring that notes prepared by any officer who is the focus of an investigation be provided to the unit directly, before the SIU even gets involved in a case.

 

It is Already a Violation of Law but Stalling Officers are Never Charged

Perhaps the most significant recommendation on the issue of timeliness and responses from officers would  be a law allowing the SIU to charge an officer with a provincial offense for failure to co-operate with an investigation. In the words of the Tulloch report: “The legislation should include a provincial offence for failing to cooperate with an SIU investigation punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both” (quoted in Toronto Star 2017).

While police forces, associations, and officers will still hold tremendous power, and have numerous ways to engage in obstruction and harassment, this would provide some mechanism to encourage timely access to information and some level of accountability.

Richard Rosenthal, the former chief civilian director of the IIO in British Columbia, commends the Tulloch recommendation. In his words: “The legislation would be an added benefit to provide the IIO with the ability to administratively charge or even criminally charge a police officer for failure to cooperate, or obstruction” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). Rosenthal, though, notes that the police chief of each force already has a responsibility in this. According to Rosenthal: “But the reality is that today, the chief of police can order the officer to cooperate and should do so” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

Indeed under British Columbia’s Police Act, officers must “cooperate fully” with IIO investigations. Yet emails filed as part of a 185-page affidavit in the court case show that the police are trying to obstruct even on the meaning of the word “cooperate.” According to the Vancouver police association Lawyer Kevin Woodall: “From the union perspective, cooperation is a two-way street where parties attempt to work through contentious issues in a reasoned, principled manner” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). In response IIO counsel Martin Allen replies: “Ah, Kevin, we do disagree about so much. The duty to cooperate … is obviously not some nebulous duty to ‘attempt to work through contentious issues in a reasonable, principled manner.’ It is a duty to ‘cooperate fully’ with an IIO investigator” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

This view is echoed by the BC government.  According to Donna Sitter, a spokeswoman at the Justice Ministry, the responsibility of police officers is clear. In her words: “Our view is that the legislation is clear and requires police officers to cooperate fully with IIO investigations” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

So the issue is one of police violations of the existing laws already. Yet, despite this, nothing is being done to hold obstructing officers, at any level, accountable legally. One might well ask why not. And find an answer in the nature of the state and state violence itself.

 

Conclusion

As of April 2017 the investigative units do not even release detailed reports to the public in cases where the involved officer is not charged. That may change in Ontario as the provincial Attorney General Yasir Naqvi promised to immediately make public all Special Investigations Unit (SIU) reports in cases where no officer faces charges. This announcement was made in response to the Tulloch report on police oversight.

Sadly, in attempting to ingratiate itself with police forces and officers the IIO has provided a record of its own futility. IIO communications director Marten Youssef has made the point of highlighting, as if to reassure killer cops, that while the agency has been notified of 1,250 police-involved incidents since its inception in 2012, only a few have met the agency’s mandate to investigate death or severe injury related to officers’ actions (Lindsay 2017). Of the 139 cases that the IIO has pursued and wrapped, only 65 were referred to Crown counsel for consideration, and only a miniscule total of 10 have ended in charges. Four of those did result in guilty pleas while two were stayed. Two ended in acquittals and another two are still pending (Lindsay 2017).

Regardless of timeline these are not numbers to suggest that grieving family members and friends of people killed by police will see anything resembling, justice or accountability. And this is not overly surprising. In the end the state is very competent in protecting the state, particularly its monopoly on violence.

 

Further Reading

Lindsay, Bethany. 2017. “Vancouver Cops, BC Investigations Agency Lock Horns over Cooperation.” Vancouver Sun. April 16. http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/city-cops-b-c-agency-lock-horns-over-cooperation-as-ontario-mulls-jail-time-for-officers-who-wont-answer-questions

Toronto Star. 2017. “Speed Up Investigations by Police Watchdog: Editorial.” Toronto Star. April 17. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/04/17/speed-up-investigations-by-police-watchdog-editorial.html