Tag Archives: Hamilton

SIU Denies Justice for Tony Divers: Killer Hamilton Cop Cleared Despite Serious Questions

Family and loved ones of Tony Divers have been kept in the dark about the SIU investigation into the police killing of the 36-year-old Hamilton man. On Thursday, August 10, 2017, they received the awful news that the Special Investigations Unit  has cleared the Hamilton officer who shot Tony Divers will not be charged. The decision comes 10 months after the killing on September 30, 2017, a too long period of time in which questions from the family have not been properly addressed.

The officer responsible fired two shots at the unarmed Divers, with one bullet hitting the victim in the chest. Despite the fact that Divers was unarmed, SIU Director Tony Loparco concluded the officer was justified in believing his own life was at risk and in fearing that Divers was armed. Under Loparco the already questionable SIU has become something of a legitimation mechanism for cops who kill civilians.

Yvonne Alexander, Tony Divers’ sister, and a tireless advocate for information and justice, responded with the pained honesty of someone whose loved one has been killed by police: “I’m shocked but I’m not at all surprised. Because it seems to be the norm these days for officers to shoot and kill someone in mental crisis” (quoted in Bennett 2017).

Of particular concern for observers is the report that the call to police included a claim that Divers was  “anti-police.” Did this play into the quick resort to lethal force by Hamilton police?

This is reinforced by Loparco’s  conclusion in the case: “On all of the information that the [officer] had in his possession at the time he shot and killed Mr. Divers, I find that the [officer], subjectively, had reasonable grounds to believe that his life was at risk from Mr. Divers” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Because he was said to be “anti-police?”

Loparco continues: “I find in all the circumstances, that despite the after the fact knowledge that Mr. Divers was not armed, the [officer] reasonably believed that his life was in danger from Mr. Divers and his actions in firing upon Mr. Divers were justified” (quoted in Bennett 2017). This is in keeping with other SIU findings under Loparco.

Loparco further notes in his report that the officer who shot Tony Divers had had previous contact with the victim and considered him “anti-police and very violent” (quoted in Bennett 2017). The officer actually appears to have held several prejudices against Tony Divers, including the assumptions that he was involved in organized crime and a drug user. The SIU report does not delve into these issues in probing detail.

The family says that Tony Divers was struggling with mental health issues when the officer shot him. For the family, this did not matter to police who responded to their loved one through the prejudging lens that held him as simply a thug.

Edward Divers, the victim’s brother, said the decision and explanation for why the shooting is justified felt to him like “an eye for an eye,” that his brother was treated as a “violent thug” with no regard for his mental illness.

One eyewitness, who says he did not see Divers holding any weapon, also said the victim appeared to pose no threat to anyone. Yet he did note that Divers did not seem subservient to the officer, a situation that seems to provoke police violence (respect their authority or die). According to witness Joe Towers: “He didn’t look very afraid of the cop; he wasn’t being cooperative, but he didn’t look like he was any particular threat. It just didn’t seem like he wanted to be arrested” (quoted in Bennett 2017).

Further Reading

Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “SIU Clears Hamilton Officer in Death of Man Shot Near GO Station.” CBC News August 10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/divers-siu-decision-released-1.4204146

 

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Former Oversight Director Says Police are “Ungovernable”: Hamilton Cops Do Not Report Killing of Chokha Bayez (20)

As this project has detailed repeatedly police across Canada act largely as they wish in investigations into the harms they inflict on civilians. This includes not even reporting those harms.

In September of 2016 a Hamilton police officer was involved in a vehicular pursuit that killed 20-year-old motorcyclist Chokha Bayez. Yet the Hamilton police broke the law and never reported the killing by the officer to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) as they are required to do. Every police service in Ontario is legally mandated to notify the SIU immediately of any incidents of serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, or death involving their officers (Carter 2017).

An SIU investigation into the Hamilton police killing of Bayez was only initiated when the victim’s family contacted the unit a month after the crash. This is an unacceptable delay that further serves to interfere with any proper investigation. As judge Michael Tulloch put it is his report on oversight in Ontario: ”In most cases, the SIU depends on the police notifying it of incidents within its mandate. Prompt, thorough police notification is the starting point for effective, efficient SIU investigations. If the police take too long to notify the SIU of an incident, or fail to do so at all, any investigation may be compromised and justice may not ever be done” (quoted in Carter 2017).

Furthermore, the investigation is not even listed on a Hamilton police report of SIU investigations presented to the police board earlier in April 2017 (Carter 2017). Constable Steve Welton told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that the incident was included (despite saying he could not comment on the case and failure to report to the SIU). Oddly, according to the CBC, no vehicular death can be found in the police board report (Carter 2017). CBC News only became aware of the SIU investigation as a result of a freedom of information request listing all of the SIU’s investigations into Hamilton police officers from 2016 (Carter 2017).

As we have documented consistently in this project there is no proper independent oversight of police and no mechanism is used, legal or otherwise, to ensure there are any negative consequences for officers and police forces who fail to comply with investigative policy and requirements. Even where they violate or flaunt the law.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon told CBC News: “If the SIU Director is of the view that there may have been a breach of the regulation, and no charges are laid, it has been the Director’s practice to notify the Chief/Commissioner of his concerns in order that they may be reviewed” (quoted in Carter 2017). Of course the chief is under no obligation to act and it is unsure if such notice has even been given in this case.

André Marin, a former Ontario ombudsman and past SIU director, is clear in stating that under current conditions there is nothing to stop police from acting like this whenever they so choose. In his words: “Because there are no consequences, police can be extremely lax. They have proven themselves to be ungovernable” (quoted in Carter 2017).

Marin has a stark assessment of police services boards as well. In his view, while they could push for oversight:  “Police services boards should be vigilant and hold their feet to the fire — but they don’t care either. There is absolutely no excuse for this” (quoted in Carter 2017).

Again, the police are a law unto themselves. And the state always protects the state.

 

Further Reading

Carter, Adam. 2017. “Hamilton Police Broke the Law and there were No Consequences.” CBC News. April 25. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/hamilton-police-siu-1.4083410


Hamilton Police Do Not Bother Reporting Vehicular Killing to SIU as Required by Law

We have repeatedly commented on the lack of real, independent oversight of police agencies at all levels across Canada on this site. This relates both to the absence of true autonomy and independence but also to the lack of transparency within oversight agencies and their incapacity to hold police accountable for obstructing and blocking investigations, not cooperating with investigations, or violating policies and requirements for reporting incidents of harm to civilians.

Information secured by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) through access to information requests shows that police forces do not necessarily even report cases where their officers have killed a civilian. In this local case the Hamilton Police Service did not notify the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), regarded as the “gold standard” for oversight of police globally, about a vehicular killing involving police in Hamilton in September 2016. The collision on September 3 killed a 20-year-old male, Chokha Bayez. Incredibly an investigation was only launched into the incident when the victim’s family approached the SIU almost one month after the crash.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon said in response to questions from CBC that the vehicle death listed in the FOI response was not publicized by the SIU simply because Hamilton police did not tell the agency about it. Yet all Ontario police services operate under a legal requirement to immediately notify the SIU of incidents of serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, or death of civilians in which their officers are involved. Furthermore the vehicular killing is not even listed on a police board report of SIU investigations presented at the Hamilton police board in April of 2017. Clearly the Hamilton Police Services view themselves as well above the law, as do police forces across the country. They are a law unto themselves as we have long known.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has committed to publishing the details of every police-involved fatality dating back to 1990, when the Special Investigations Unit was established, as per the recommendations of the recent report on police oversight undertaken by Justice Michael Tulloch. SIU investigations are kept secret even from the families of victims. The Tulloch report also recommended that oversight agencies start collecting demographic data including race and religion, currently not maintained systematically in Canada. The report also recommended that oversight bodies release detailed reports whenever a police officer is cleared of wrongdoing. At the same time, police officers involved in deaths or serious incidents will not be identified unless they are charged, as is current, bad, practice.

 

Further Reading

Carter, Adam. 2017. “4 Times Hamilton Cops were Investigated for Sex Assault and the SIU Said Nothing.” CBC News. April 20.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/siu-sexual-assault-allegations-hamilton-police-1.4077303

 


Family of Tony Divers, Hamilton Man Killed by Police, Raises Concerns Over Investigations into the Killing

The lack of effective and independent oversight of police is an ongoing issue in the Canadian context. This is true even where supposedly independent investigations units exist provincially. In every case investigations are impeded by police harassment, non-cooperation, and/or intimidation. In addition their is no mechanism to force police to comply with or adhere to investigation procedures. In many cases investigating agencies have connections with police forces, including dependence of police for their own training. This all means that there is no proper oversight of police in Canada and families are often doubly victimized, first by the taking of a loved one by police and then by a process that excludes them and lacks efficiency and transparency.

One issue being raised by families of victims of police killings in Ontario is with the slow pace of investigations and the lack of information provided publicly and to families. This has been a concern for the main police oversight body in the province, the Special Investigations Unit (considered the gold standard globally, which says plenty)

Growing attention and increasing public outcry in Canada over police killings of civilians has led to an independent review of police oversight in Ontario. One issue examined is the matter of public release of information from SIU investigations. The final report from Justice Michael Tulloch on police oversight in Ontario is slated to be released in March.

The family of Tony Divers (36) has been waiting for answers since their loved one was shot and killed by Hamilton Police on September 30, 2016. The family says it was told that forensics and toxicology work was done in December but it could still take several months several months before the SIU release any information about the investigation. Incredibly, in the meantime, Edward Divers, the victim’s brother, was arrested on an old warrant when he attended a Police Services Board meeting and raised questions about the killing of his brother. This has been viewed as a punitive act of harassment by police.

Police have said they were responding to a call when they targeted Divers. Yet no details have been released about the call or who made it. In addition police have claimed the victim had a gun, yet there is no evidence available that suggests any gun, or any other weapon, was present at the scene apart from police weapons. At least one witness has said that Divers did not have any gun at the scene.

The family says Divers was struggling with mental health issues at the time police killed him. The use of lethal force by police against people experiencing mental health crises has become a too common situation in Canada. So too is the stonewalling of family requests for basic information and insight into the police killings of their loved ones.

Karyn Greenwood-Graham, whose son was killed by Waterloo Police almost a decade ago, points to what she calls the “police culture” that dominates throughout the SIU. In her words: “What we have seen is a lack of support, a lack of respect, a lack of acknowledgement to the families who have lost a loved one, a son, a brother” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Greenwood-Graham organizes with the Affected Families of Police Homicide provides solidarity and support for families of victims of police killings of civilians

The slow process of investigations raises questions about transparency and credibility. It also leaves families in turmoil, harming their health and well being.

 

Further Reading

Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “Family of Man Shot by Hamilton Police Frustrated by SIU Decision.” CBC News. February 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/family-of-man-shot-by-hamilton-police-frustrated-by-wait-for-siu-decision-1.3996304


Hamilton Police Target Brother of Police Victim Tony Divers After He Criticizes Them

Police are vindictive. This characteristic of vindictiveness comes to the fore powerfully, along with other regulars secretiveness, defensiveness, and self-righteousness in situations where police respond to critics when they have killed someone. This vindictiveness was clearly on display on January 12 in Hamilton, Ontario when police arrested Edward Divers moments after he made a presentation at the Hamilton Police Services Board critical of police actions in the killing of his brother Tony Divers in September of 2016.

This vindictiveness is emphasized by the fact that Edward Divers was arrested on an 11-year-old warrant for a failure to appear. The use of failure to appear charges to criminalize people is a scandal in Canada where it is routinely laid against poor, homeless, and street involved people who may lack resources to ensure appearances at court appointed times or who have irregular schedules. Growing numbers of people are being detained solely on the basis of failure to appear charges. In the Divers case the Crown actively opposed his release but he was finally released on bail.

The family believes they have been specifically targeted by police. And any observer might well ask why and under what circumstances the police investigated Divers and came across the decade-old warrant. A reasonable conclusion is that they went searching for anything on Edward Divers knowing of his criticisms of police and intention to present at the Police Board meeting.

Divers has been living with sisters in Hamilton since October 2016, shortly after his brother’s killing. Despite this he was not arrested until he came forward to criticize police and made application to speak at the Police Board. Divers criticism ahs extended to the chief who he has suggested acts more like a politician than a human in addressing police use of lethal force.

Police Board member Councillor Terry Whitehead, justified police by saying blandly: “They have a responsibility to protect the public” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Yet it is not clear how the public is in need of protection for a failure to appear.

Divers’ sister, Yvonne Alexander described the operations police put in place to apprehend the failure to appear suspect. In her words: “They had police at every exit unbeknownst to us during the meeting. Then as soon as we walked over the threshold out of city hall, five cops arrested him. They wouldn’t tell us why” (quoted in Bennett 2017).

We can surmise that it had everything to do with a grieving brother simply daring to question a force that has killed his brother. And which is used to acting vindictively, viciously, with impunity. They do it because they can.

 

Further Reading

Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “Grieving Brother Criticizes Police, Gets Arrested on 11-Year-Old Warrant.” CBC News. January 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/grieving-brother-criticizes-police-gets-arrested-on-11-year-old-warrant-1.3934145


Comply or Die Policing…Again?: The Killing of Tony Divers

As is true of police killings of civilians in the United States, Canadian police disproportionately kill people experiencing mental health issues (police in Canada also disproportionately kill Black and Indigenous people). Too often, police insisting on a “comply or die” framework for encountering civilians quickly act with lethal force against people unwilling or unable to accept orders from officers.

On Friday night, September 30, 2016, police in Hamilton, Ontario shot and killed Anthony (Tony) Divers (36) a man who is reported to have been dealing with mental health issues. According to witnesses the victim had no weapon and posed no threat to police. He was apparently walking away from the Hamilton officers rather than toward them when they killed him.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines all cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario is investigating the killing. They have assigned seven investigators and three forensic investigators to review the killing.

 

The Police Killing of Tony Divers

Tony Divers was killed around 30 minutes after a 911 call was made about someone possibly hitting a woman. Someone may have reported seeing a gun but neither the police nor the SIU have revealed where that rumor originated and they have not confirmed the presence of any gun on or near the man they killed. A witnesses to the police killing of Tony Divers reports that he did not see the man carrying any gun.

One witness, Joe Towers recalls hering some noise behind him and someone shout “Fucking goof” (quoted in Bennett 2016). Looking further he noted a police officer following a civilian. What at first seemed like a routine arrest situation quickly turned when Towers heard the officer scream: “Get your fucking hands up” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). According to Towers, at this point he noticed that the officer had a gun drawn on the man (Bennett 2016b). Fearing being shot himself by police, Towers attempted to hide behind a trash dumpster when he heard the first shot fired by the cops. In his words: “It was sort of in mid-turn where I heard the first shot go off, and I was turning back, and I saw the second shot just hit the guy and the guy fell on the ground” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). Several police then moved in to arrest the stricken man.

There remain some inconsistencies in the initial police reports. Divers was fatally shot less than 30 minutes after an assault took place that he was believed to have been involved in several blocks away. Police claim that the initial call for the assault came in around 11 PM, but time-stamped security footage from a condominium complex across the street places the initial encounter with the woman occurring at 11:34 PM. The killing of Tony Divers occurred close to midnight. Curiously the man in video footage, not confirmed to be Divers was wearing a “security” shirt.

 

Mental Health, Policing, and the Killing of Tony Divers

A Hamilton defense lawyer who has represented Tony Divers since 2011 says that the young man had been struggling with mental health issues in the period before he was killed by police. She suggests he might have been seeking help the night he was killed. According to lawyer Jaime Stephenson: “Recently he’s been dealing with some mental health issues. He’d been intermittently seeking treatment for that” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). She notes that the location at which Divers was killed by police might give “an indication of where he was headed” at the time, possibly to the psychiatric emergency room at Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Healthcare (quoted in Bennett 2016b). In her view: “He was awfully close to St. Joe’s. I wasn’t there, obviously. But my suspicion is that he may have been seeking treatment” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). While Stephenson did not know of any specific diagnosis for Divers she was aware that he was receiving “some treatment” for a mental health issue (quoted in Bennett 2016b).

A friend, who would identify himself only as Daniel, remembered Tony Divers as “a very loving and caring brother and friend and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to help those he cared about” (quoted in Frketich and Moro 2016). The mourning friend expressed the sense of loss:

“He is going to be sadly and deeply missed by many whose lives he brightened and affected. I’m personally so deeply heartbroken and lost over this. He was always there for me and carried me through some of my hardest times. Times I’d not have made it through without his love, support, and guidance.” (quoted in Frketich and Moro 2016)

These are the people killed by police who are trained to see not human beings but only threats. And to see them everywhere, in everyone. And often that “threat” can be as little as refusing to follow orders shouted in anger.

 

Comply or Die

According to witness Joe Towers, Tony Divers was actually walking away from police when they shot him. This raises again the question of “comply or die policing” and the killing of a civilian not because they pose a threat but simply because they have ignored or questioned an officer’s authority.

Based on what he saw he did not believe Divers was armed. According to Towers: “I didn’t see him waving any gun around” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). This case appears to have been another case of “comply or die policing,” an all too common occurrence in the Canadian context, based on the witness report. Notably, while suggesting that Divers was not necessarily cooperative, he did not appear to pose a real threat. In Towers’ view: “He didn’t look very afraid of the cop; he wasn’t being cooperative, but he didn’t look like he was any particular threat. It just didn’t seem like he wanted to be arrested” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). And this is a reasonable enough position for any citizen to take. It should not cost one one’s life. Under conditions of comply or die policing simply not wanting to be arrested, or questioning why one is being engaged by police can be an executable offense.

Witness Joe Towers recalls the officer being close to the victim, in his estimation “a few feet, not very far at all” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). In Towers’ view there was no need to use deadly force and given how close the officer was to the victim he believes a taser could have been deployed instead. Hamilton police are among the first police agencies in the province to arm all front line officers with tasers following a 2013 decision by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to ease restrictions on who can use them (Bennett 2016b).

Towers was understandably upset by witnessing the police killing of Divers and he questioned why police came at the man with guns drawn at all. Towers stated afterwards: “My only concern was why the gun was drawn on him in the first place. Perhaps [the cop] was told that he had a gun by somebody else, but I don’t know” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). The question has been raised by others concerned about the police killing of Divers. Lawyer Jaime Stephenson questions the police response in this case. In her words: “I query why deadly force was used. Even if there was some report on a 9-1-1 call that there was a weapon, if you’re there and you don’t see a weapon …” (quoted in Bennett 2016b).

Another witness, taxi driver Khalid Yousaf, told the Hamilton Spectator Friday night following the shooting that he saw a man, presumably Tony Driver, walking on James Street South and then heard a police officer tell the man to stop walking (Bennett 2016a). Yousaf reported that while the man kept walking the officer followed him again asking him to stop walking. Rather shockingly Yousaf revealed that “the man turned to face the officer and stretched out his arms at his side and palms facing the officer” (quoted in Bennett 2016a). So by his eyewitness account the man killed by police posed no threat and indeed showed the police his open palms, holding nothing. Then, for this, he was shot twice and killed. According to Khalid Yousaf: “Then, he fired” (quoted in Bennett 2016a). Yousaf never reported seeing the victim with a gun at any point.

 

Conclusion

In reflecting upon the history of police killings of civilians dealing with mental health issues, Stephenson suggests: “It doesn’t seem like the police are learning from the past mistakes that have happened” (quoted in Bennett 2016b). Sadly police killings in Canada suggest these cases will continue to occur as police insist on pursuing comply or die policing approaches. This is underlined by the fact that because police are never held truly accountable for killing civilians there is no reason for them to change their approach and behavior. And there remains no mechanism for holding them fully accountable.

 

Further Reading

Bennett, Kelly. 2016a. “3 Days after Tony Divers was Shot by Police, Key Questions Remain.” CBC News. October 4. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/3-days-after-tony-divers-was-shot-by-police-key-questions-remain-1.3789582

Bennett, Kelly. 2016b. “Lawyer Says Tony Divers, Man Shot by Police, Had Mental Illness.” CBC News. October 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/lawyer-says-tony-divers-man-shot-by-police-had-mental-illness-1.3793369

Frketich, Joanna and Teviah Moro. 2016. “Anthony Divers Identified as Man Killed by Hamilton Police in Friday Night Shooting.” Hamilton Spectator. October 3. http://www.thespec.com/news-story/6889448-anthony-divers-identified-as-man-killed-by-hamilton-police-in-friday-night-shooting/