The province should look into prohibiting police shooting at motor vehicles, unless a serious threat exists by means other than the vehicle, a coroner’s inquest into the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Duane Christian has recommended.
Christian was shot in the arm and chest four years ago while driving a stolen minivan into the parking lot at 3700 Lawrence Ave. E. He was not carrying a weapon.
The Special Investigations Unit investigated and cleared Const. Steve Darnley of misconduct in the shooting.
Darnley testified at the coroner’s inquest last month that Christian was on the verge of running over his partner, Const. Rowena Edey.
In 2008 Toronto Police changed its policy to prohibit officers from shooting at a vehicle unless serious danger exists for an officer, other than from the vehicle itself.
If that policy had been followed in 2006, Christian would not have been shot, says Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer representing Christian’s family at the coroner’s inquest.
“Here’s a policy that would have saved Duane Christian’s life,” Rosenthal said. “But the officer that killed Duane Christian said that he would [shoot] again tomorrow.”
The coroner’s inquest into Christian’s death concluded on Feb. 25 with six recommendations, including studying the possibility of enacting the amended police policy province-wide.
Christian’s family filed an unprecedented $2-million lawsuit against the SIU charging the investigation was negligent.
The investigation by the SIU was “not a serious investigation of any kind,” Rosenthal said.
“The SIU says that they owe a duty to the public, not the mother of the victim,” Rosenthal said.
The SIU went to court to have the lawsuit stricken and lost.
Edey testified at the inquest on Feb. 11 she felt she was in a life-threatening situation and had made attempts to move from the path of the van.
Rosenthal said discrepancies in the case include testimony by a witness who heard arguing that did not show up in the officers’ accounts of events.
The SIU, however, is facing heat not just from Christian’s family. In late 2008, André Marin, Ombudsman of Ontario, released an extensive report highlighting holes in the SIU investigation, such as the SIU not being notified of the incident until nearly 75 minutes after Christian’s death. Key witness officers were interviewed six days later, and the subject officer was not interviewed at all. Lastly, Christian’s mother was left waiting at the police station unaware of her son’s death.
The Ombudsman noted 226 incidents investigated by the SIU in 2006, in which only two charges were laid.
Crime victim advocate Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo defended the investigation and the officer’s actions.
“Police have families too, just like us. Parents should open their eyes, please. My sympathy goes to Duane Christian’s family, but suing the SIU will not bring him back or erase the memories,” Omololu-Olunloyo said.
“Every one of our children cannot be monitored 24/7. What is a 15-year-old doing at five in the morning in a stolen van?” Omololu-Olunloyo said. “These days, when there is a police witness and all these dashboard cameras that capture images, seeing his partner almost run down is something that may have endangered the officer’s life too. The officer defended the life of his partner.”