Category Archives: Court Cases

Alberta Killer Cop Michelle Phillips Has First Court Appearance, Victim’s Family Not Notified

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, RCMP Constable Michelle Phillips had her first court appearance on charges of dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm in the killing of 41-year-old Tracy Janvier on August 21, 2016.

Janvier’s family is speaking publicly about concerns that this RCMP killing is going to be swept under the rug. Tracy Janvier was walking on a highway near Anzac, south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, when struck by a car and injured. Incredibly Constable Phillips drove over and killed the stricken victim while racing to the scene without slowing.

In a news release announcing the laying of charges the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province stated:

 

“While responding [to the scene] at an extremely high rate of speed, the officer came upon a number of vehicles stopped on one side of the highway with their lights on and proceeded to drive past these vehicles without slowing. Unfortunately, this location was where the pedestrian had been originally struck and the officer ran over the injured pedestrian prone on the roadway with the police vehicle, killing him.”

 

The police vehicle also hit a 71-year-old man who was helping Janvier. That man suffered non-life threatening injuries.

The family is concerned it was kept in the dark regarding the change in time of Constable Phillips’ court appearance.

Said Marina Nokohoo, Janvier’s sister, at the courthouse in Fort McMurray: “My brother deserves justice. He paid the ultimate price. My mom and dad, they’ve lost a child. So they feel that loss. They feel that impact more than any of us. Yet, because they are still our parents they are still taking care of us who are grieving.” (quoted in Thurton 2017).

Nokohoo continued: “I just don’t want to make it so that my brother’s death is going to be swept under the rug, or it’s going to be forgotten about. He’s my brother. He’s a human being. He’s important as anyone else” (quoted in Thurton 2017).

The next court date is scheduled for August 30, 2017.

 

Further Reading

Thurton, David. 2017. “‘My Brother Deserves Justice,’ Says Family of Alberta Man Killed by Speeding RCMP Vehicle.” CBC News. August 2. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/tracy-janvier-rcmp-vehicle-killed-anzac-asirt-1.4233099

 


The Death of Debra Chrisjohn: Racism and Police Violence Against Indigenous Women

Nearly a year after the death of Debra Chrisjohn in police custody, and even after the filing of charges against police officers responsible, Constable Mark McKillop of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Constable Nicholas Doering of the London Police Service, many issues remain unaddressed and unanswered about police actions in her arrest, detention, and death. Beyond the specific actions undertaken by police, the circumstances of Chrisjohn’s death raise issues of police racism and violence against Indigenous people and communities.

Debra Chrisjohn (39) of the Oneida Nation of the Thames was arrested on September 7, 2016. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, announced on July 13, 2017, that constables McKillop and Doeriing have been charged with one count each of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Both had contact with Chrsijohn on the day she died. The family has received few facts about the death of their loved one beyond this.

The family wants to know why the officers did not seek medical attention for their loved one when it became apparent that she needed help. Debra Chrisjohn’s father Robert Chrisjohn, asks: “Why didn’t the police take her to the hospital sooner when they knew she was sick and needed help? The police arrested her and were responsible for making sure she was okay. This happens way too often in our community. This happens all the time. The police just don’t seem to care” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)

Caitlyn Kasper, of Toronto’s Aboriginal Legal Services, claims that police had enough information available to deal with Debra Chrisjohn’s case in a different way. For example, police knew that Chrisjohn had a documented history of both substance abuse and mental illness. At the time of her arrest and detention on September 7, 2017, there were clear indications that Chrisjohn was in need of medical attention, not time in police custody

The family and community advocates insist that any discussion related to the actions of these officers in this case must address the troubling behaviors of police forces across Canada in dealing with Indigenous communities. This is, of course, an ongoing history of colonial violence and brutality. In the words of Caitlyn Kasper: “What happened to Debra is not an isolated incident. It is very obvious that it isn’t these types of issues just in London or the Oneida First Nation. It’s a concern we hear about in Toronto, all across Ontario and all across Canada” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)

.According to Kasper, the case against the officers must focus on what she terms the “foundational relationship” between police and Indigenous people across the Canadian state (McQuigge 2017). Kasper notes the ongoing questions of police responsibility in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Many believe that police have been purposefully negligent in investigating those cases. Others suggest that police are themselves involved in the killings and disappearances of Indigenous women. Samantha Doxtator, a friend of the victim, has stitched together traditional moccasin vamps to commemorate Debra Chrisjohn and is sending them to be included in an art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.

Giselle Dias, an area psychotherapist who has spent 25 years working for prisoners’ rights, insists it be acknowledged that Indigenous and marginalized communities are most impacted by the criminal justice system in Canada. She agrees that Chrisjohn’s death points fundamentally to the a systemic issue of over-policing and mistreatment within racialized communities (Ghonaim 2017). And she is rightly not optimistic about the court process offering any redress. In her words: “Just because these police officers have been charged, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be found guilty. I will not rest assured” (quoted in Ghonaim 2017).

In case after case this truth remains. The system protects itself and that includes protecting killer cops.

 

Further Reading

Ghonaim, Hala. 2017. “Family of Indigenous Woman Who Died in Police Custody Seeks Answers and Justice.” CBC News. July 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/family-of-indigenous-woman-who-died-in-police-custody-wants-justice-1.4204624

McQuigge, Michelle. 2017. “Charges Point to Police-Indigenous Tensions.” Sudbury Star. July 15. http://www.thesudburystar.com/2017/07/15/charges-point-to-police-indigenous-tensions

 


Montreal Killer Cop Christian Gilbert Pleads Not Guilty: Killed Bony Jean-Pierre

Montreal police officer Christian Gilbert, who killed Bony Jean-Pierre (46) in April 2016, has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge against him. Gilbert shot Jean-Pierre in the head with a plastic bullet during a raid. The killing of Jean-Pierre sparked an uprising in the Montreal North Neighborhood where the shooting happened. The charge against officer Gilbert represents only the ninth time since 1999 that an officer has been charged in the injuring or killing of a civilian in Quebec.

Gilbert was not present in court for the July 6, 2017 appearance.  His defence lawyer Isabelle Briand also informed the court that Gilbert wants a trial by judge and jury. Gilbert’s next court date is scheduled for August 29, 2017.


Killer Cop James Forcillo Appeals Conviction for Killing Sammy Yatim on Bogus “Suicide by Cop” Claim

The notion of “suicide by cop” is a phony construct devised as a cynical ruse to excuse killer cops and get them off the hook when they kill civilians. The problems with this notion have been detailed and analyzed repeatedly in this project. Applied after the fact and in a range of instances, including those in which the cop killed someone who posed no threat to police or the public, the excuse covers up killings which are in no way suicides. If a police officer chooses to shoot someone who is isolated from the public and poses no threat to anyone, that is not suicide. If the cop has a choice not to kill, that killing is not a suicide. Saying it is denies the dignity of the victim who has not chosen to  end their own life. It has been consciously ended for them. Without consent. Suicide by cop is in these cases purely propagandistic.

Yet killer cops, their departments, and police associations routinely trot this piece of copaganda out in diverse circumstances. Such is the case of Toronto Constable James Focillo who shot 18-year-old Sammy Yatim multiple times while the youth was all alone and readily contained on an inoperative and empty streetcar. Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in prison for the 2013 killing of Yatim. Forcillo is now appealing his conviction on the basis that testimony arguing for “suicide by cop” in Yatim’s case was excluded from the trial. The testimony was provided from cop “criminologist” Rick Parent of Simon Fraser University who has built a tidy side career on justifying “suicide by cop” claims by his colleagues who kill.

The suicide by cop claim is ludicrous in this case. First, Yatim was alone and contained and posed no threat to the public or police. Secondly, Forcillo fired two distinct volleys of multiple shots at the youth, pausing before shooting the second volley even after the young man had fallen dead from the first round of shots. Clearly not a suicide. Forcillo had multiple opportunities not to shoot and to stop shooting. There is no way to construe that as a suicide on Yatim’s part.

Forcillo, who is currently on bail pending the appeal, is asking for a not guilty verdict or a new trial. Forcillo is asking the appeal court, which is set to hear his case this fall, to substitute a not-guilty verdict or order a new trial. The killer cop is also seeking a declaration that his mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder is unconstitutional, and seeks a suspended sentence. Absent these outcomes he wants his sentence reduced to the minimum of five years.


Killer Montreal Cop Christian Gilbert Charged for Killing Bony Jean-Pierre

It is among the rarest of occurrences in Canada that a killer cop is ever charged for taking the life of a civilian. Oversight agencies, which are not autonomous or independent of police, prosecutors, and judges work to ensure that the state protects the state and killer cops are legitimized. On Wednesday, May 24, 2017 one of those rare events occurred with the laying of charges against Montreal police officer Christian Gilbert who killed 46-year-old Bony Jean-Pierre on March 31, 2016.

Murder charges against police are unheard of and officer Gilbert has been charged with manslaughter. He shot Jean-Pierre in the head with a rubber bullet, a projectile that police routinely use, as in protests for example, and which police propagandists pose as non-lethal.  The charges were announced by Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP). Officer Gilbert was released under a promise to appear on July 6, 2017.

The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI, Bureau of Independent Investigations), Quebec’s investigation unit, which now examines incidents of police harm to civilians was not established when the investigation into Jean-Pierre’s killing was initiated. Instead the charges come, incredibly, following an investigation by Quebec provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ).

The Montreal North community, long angered by police targeting and violence organized and mobilized in response to the police killing of Jean-Pierre. At least 100 people participated in a march and rally in June. At that time some cars and banks were vandalized and objects thrown at the police station in a community uprising. The march occurred on what would have been the 26th birthday of Fredy Villanueva, a young man shot and killed by police in 2008 when Montreal policed moved aggressively to break up a game of dice in a park. Yes, he was killed for playing dice. The killing of Fredy Villanueva highlighted the racist targeted policing practices of Montreal police, reinforced by the killing of Bony Jean-Pierre.


Judicial Review Sought over Dropped Charges in Case of Killer Cops Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau

Courts in Canada have consistently protected police officers who kill against prosecution. Usually charges are not laid and in other cases charges are dropped after it is decided there has been too long a delay in bringing the officers to trial. The state determinedly protects the state. In the case of the killing of Michel Vienneau by Bathurst police officers Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau in 2015 a judicial review is now being sought after a provincial judge Anne Dugas-Horsman decided earlier in 2017 not to bring the officers to trial. They had faced charges of manslaughter. The judge’s decision was roundly criticized and shocked family and friends who then initiated a petition calling for a review.

On January 12, 2015, 51-year-old Michel Vienneau of Tracadie, New Brunswick, was shot and killed by Bathurst Police Force Constable Patrick Bulger (38) and Constable Mathieu Boudreau (26) under highly dubious circumstances. Vienneau was shot as he left the Bathurst VIA Rail train station following return from a trip to Montreal with his partner Annick Basque. The officers were supposedly responding to accusations against the couple through an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip. A subsequent investigation by RCMP found that neither Vienneau nor Basque were involved in any criminal activity and neither were carrying drugs as the tip claimed.

On Tuesday, April 11, 2017 it was announced that New Brunswick’s public prosecution services is seeking a judicial review of Provincial Court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman’s decision not to proceed to trial in the case. Judge Dugas-Horsman ruled in February 2017 that there was not enough evidence to take the officers to trial.

According to spokesperson Sheila Lagacé in a prepared statement: “Public prosecutions services is of the opinion that the judge at the preliminary hearing failed to consider all of the relevant evidence and thereby committed a jurisdictional error” (quoted in Yard and MacKinnon 2017).

Judge Dugas-Horsman had ruled that the prosecution failed to meet the threshold that both accused officers engaged in an illegal act when they killed Vienneau. The public prosecutions services wants a Court of Queen’s Bench justice to review that decision.

The Court of Queen’s Bench could uphold the decision of the provincial court or officers Bulger and Boudreau could be committed to stand trial following the review (Yard and MacKinnon 2017). The review will be based on information already on record.

According to defense lawyer Lutz this is “a highly unusual manner of proceeding” (quoted in Yard and MacKinnon 2017). He suggests that it is, in fact, the “first time he has heard of a judicial review in this type of situation in years” (Yard and MacKinnon 2017). It is, however, the only way to appeal a preliminary inquiry decision which can not be appealed in regular procedures because it is “an interim of a court process” (quoted in Yard and MacKinnon 2017.

Of note, public prosecution services is somewhat independent and does not act on direction from the provincial government in carrying out its responsibilities (Yard and MacKinnon 2017).

 

Further Reading

Yard, Bridget and Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon. 2017. “Judicial Review Sought of Decision Not To Try Police in Bathurst Shooting Death.” CBC News. April 11. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/bulger-boudreau-vienneau-bathurst-judicial-review-1.4065361


Donald Dunphy’s Daughter Sues Killer Cop Joseph Smyth, Newfoundland Force, and Province

In the Canadian context families of people killed by police can rarely, if ever, expect that the officers involved will be held to account in any way through criminal proceedings. This is not surprising given the state’s inclination to protect its own who kill in upholding the state. Often times the only way that victims’ families can gain a sense of some accountability is through the pursuit of civil suits. The killing of Donald Dunphy (58) by officer Joseph Smyth in Newfoundland shows clearly the state protecting the state in the case of a killer cop. Once again family, in this case Dunphy’s daughter Meghan, have had to file a civil suit against the officer, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC), and the province.

Donald Dunphy was an injured worker who, like many injured workers in jurisdictions across Canada, was frustrated with a process that often ignores or downplayed workers’ concerns or needs and seems more inclined to protect capital or negligent businesses. Dunphy, like many dealing with recalcitrant bureaucratic institutions with few resources for legal sup[port or advocacy, took to social media, especially Twitter, to air criticisms of the workers’ compensation system. Dunphy’s friends and family members note that while angry he was not violent. He was never known to use guns.

The statement of claim filed by Meghan Dunphy states: “The death of Donald Dunphy was caused by the wrongful act or neglect of Joseph Smyth” (quoted in Bailey 2017). The lawsuit also names as defendants Smyth’s force, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government for its responsibility in overseeing the force.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Constable Joe Smyth was a member of then-premier Paul Davis’s security team on April 5, 2015, when he made an unannounced visit to Dunphy’s home in Mitchell’s Brook, Newfoundland. Smyth made the drive 80 kilometres southwest of St. John’s apparently because of a social media post that the premier’s staff had flagged as being  “of concern” (quoted in Bailey 2017). During the visit Smyth would shoot Dunphy twice in the head and once in his left chest. He claimed the man raised a gun and police say a .22 caliber rifle owned by Dunphy’s father was found at his feet. No fingerprints of Dunphy could be found on the gun. Police accounts have not been independently verified.

The reason given for the visit, targeting a civilian because of some tweets on Twitter, should raise serious questions about the role of police as political agents defending politicians against mere statements of dissent and punishing political critics for simple expression of opposition. Constable Smyth was never charged for his unannounced political visit and apparent attempt at intimidation nor for his killing of Donald Dunphy.

A public commission of inquiry into the killing raised more concerns. Constable Smyth first testified at the inquiry over the course of three days in January. He was recalled in March when text messages discovered after his initial appearance appeared clearly to contradict his sworn testimony. Smyth had initially testified that he never considered Dunphy a threat and never received advice on his notes regarding the shooting. Yet in later retrieved BlackBerry messages, Smyth told an unidentified friend the day before the killing of Dunphy that he had to deal with a “lunatic” who was “threatening the premier” (quoted in 2017). Smyth tried to explain the deletions prior to the inquiry by stating that he deleted direct text messages habitually to clear space on his phone (Bailey 2017). He also claimed that he did not mean the term “lunatic” in a derogatory way, because who, really would take it as such. He said he was simply referring to social media comments that he viewed as ranting (Bailey 2017).

Smyth also claimed during his second inquiry appearance that he had no recollection of numerous text exchanges the day following the shooting with RNC Sergeant Tim Buckle about notes Smyth would take to his RCMP interview that afternoon (Bailey 2017). This for someone overly focused on electronic messaging.

Newfoundland has no special unit to investigate incidents of harm by police to civilians so, incredibly, the investigation into Smyth’s killing of Donald Dunphy was carried out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). This despite the fact that Meghan Dunphy raised issues of fairness and transparency and requested that an outside agency be used. Stunningly RCMP investigators even told the inquiry that they “inappropriately shared evidence with Smyth” or “were more casual with him” (Bailey 2017), They stood by their findings and, dubiously, so too did the inquiry.

The inquiry into Dunphy’s killing, led by provincial Court of Appeal judge Leo Barry, took place over two months beginning in January 2017 and heard from more than 50 witnesses. As is the case with such inquiries, the Dunphy inquiry could not make findings of criminal or civil responsibility. Judge Barry is scheduled to provide his report and any recommendations by July 1.

 

Further Reading

Bailey, Sue. 2017. “Daughter of Man Shot Dead by Newfoundland Police Sues Officer, Force, Province.” CTV News. April 5. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/daughter-of-man-shot-dead-by-newfoundland-police-sues-officer-force-province-1.3355744