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Jury makes seven recommendations at coroner’s inquest
The jury at the coroner’s inquest into the police shooting death of Alvin Wright have made seven recommendations for how the RCMP can prevent similar deaths from happening.
It took the jury of five just under four hours to render their verdict after four days of often emotionally charged testimony from all the Langley RCMP officers involved, as well as witness accounts from Wright’s widow, brother, various emergency responders, doctors and Langley’s Officer in Charge.
Some of the highlights of the verdict include recommending police involved in a shooting have to make a recorded or written statement within 24 hours of the incident and then again in 72 hours, “without exception.”
Currently, there is no requirement of police who have shot and killed someone while on duty to give any statement. They only have to give a brief verbal account, as was the case after Langley RCMP Sgt. Don Davidson shot and killed Wright in August, 2010. He didn’t have to make a statement about his version of events until more than three months later when he drafted a response with his lawyer.
The jury also want to see police announce themselves when entering a home, or a room, when it is safe to do so. This is something two of three officers who entered Wright’s bedroom that night couldn’t recall doing. The jury and coroner also felt there needs to be some sort of co-ordination, leadership and formulation of a plan when multiple officers attend a 911 call.
When the four officers arrived at different times to the Wright residence, none of them discussed a plan of how to handle the situation. The officers said this is standard practice, because the situation is fluid.
They also recommend that officers be taken off duty for a minimum of 12 hours and assessed by a psychologist to see if they are fit for duty. Currently, their superior can order them back to duty.
It was learned that RCMP officers are seen by a psychologist after a shooting but are not required to continue counselling. There is critical incident debriefing available, but it was not offered to Davidson.
They also suggested that police review their training on compassion and empathy techniques. This comes after it was learned that Langley RCMP held Wright’s girlfriend for hours, refusing to let her see her parents and continued holding her there after she was told that Wright had died.
Police also arrested Wright’s brother at the scene, holding him in cells until the police chief ordered that he be released to his father. After he learned his brother was dead, police demanded he make a statement to police. Langley RCMP Supt. Derek Cooke took the stand last Thursday, saying the brother’s statement probably wasn’t necessary and agreed more compassion should have been shown.
Last Thursday, Cooke said he will look at the recommendations made by the coroner’s inquest. Likely it would be up to the BC RCMP, not a single detachment, to implement any changes to policy.
Cooke said the night of the shooting he was called to the detachment and spoke with all three officers involved, offering them compassion. He didn’t ask them about the events of what took place.
The inquest lawyer, Alan Wright’s counsel and the widow’s lawyer all questioned why such compassion wasn’t offered to Wright’s family, who were held for hours at the Langley detachment.
“I advised our investigators to keep them there to get evidence,” testified Cooke.
“Did the officer not have to give his evidence too?” questioned inquest counsel Rod Mackenzie.
“I wanted to allow him the opportunity to obtain counsel,” Cooke replied.
“Is that a luxury you afford civilians?” Mackenzie asked.
“If they ask,” Cooke replied.
When questioned, Cooke said he heard Wright’s widow Heather Hannon let out a scream of anguish when she was given the news her boyfriend was dead. He said he also heard her screaming in the detachment to “let me go.” He did not inquire about her well-being or whether she should be released.
The Coroner’s Inquest Jury Recommendations:
1. Police should announce their presence unless deemed unsafe to do so and the front and back of their vests should have large reflective font with the words “POLICE;”
2. RCMP review command, control and communication training and practise during multi-officer operations with a view to develop a situational based plan;
3. More RCMP members be trained in alternative means of intermediate weapons such as a Tasers;
4. RCMP consider all possibilities of communication with the subject of a complaint prior to initiating contact, referring to their operational manual, section 7;
5. The RCMP review its practice of allowing officers involved in a shooting to provide their Duty of Account in written or recorded report to an independent investigator.This should be handled within a minimum of 24 hours and follow up within 72 hours,with no exceptions. Officers involved are to be assessed by a psychologist and put on administrative leave for a minimum of eight to 12 hours of counselling before being deemed fit for duty. A duty of account checklist should be created;
6. RCMP review their training to ensure it includes compassionate and empathy techniques;
7. Notification of next of kin in police shootings be made by either a physician or Coroner.