IIO, police at an impasse
Another story being played out in the Vancouver media last week was also outlining an impasse between the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) and the Vancouver Police Union (VPU). (Family caught in spat between Vancouver police and independent watchdog)
That incident occurred on a hot August afternoon in southeast Vancouver in 2015 and ended just across the Burnaby border with the death of 33-yr-old Myles Thomas Gray.
That story told of the frustration being felt by the Gray family because the IIO has yet to conclude their investigation into the death and the frustration with the VPD because their members are not cooperating with investigators.
The story also quoted Doug King of the Pivot Legal Society who is calling for either changes in the BC Police Act to force the officers to cooperate or for them to be charged criminally in the death to force them to mount a defence.
An interesting take for a lawyer for a civil rights organization who seems to think the police are not entitled to the same rights as any other member of the public.
This gets complicated by the fact there are no independent witnesses to the events of that fateful day. The IIO initially designated all the officers who were hands-on with Gray as “subject officers.” This placed all the officers in the position that anything they said could be used criminally against them.
Then the IIO realized that because they cannot compel subject officers to provide statements, and there were no other witnesses, they changed the designation of some of the officers to “witness” officers to try and compel them to give statements.
This gets further complicated by the fact that the family filed a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court against 11 VPD officers alleging they beat Gray to death. It’s inflammatory to say the least. And any statements made by any of the officers could expose them to civil liability as well as criminal jeopardy from the IIO.
The stalemate seems complete.
To date, the IIO is refusing to let members review CAD information and radio traffic surrounding the chaotic events of that afternoon. They haven’t even told the police, or the family for that matter, the cause of death from the autopsy nor have they provided any information from the toxicology reports. One assumes they had toxicology analysis given the circumstances of the death, but we don’t even actually know that.
In reality, there were several 9-1-1 calls about the behaviour of Gray that day. The first emanated from the Gray household itself where things seem to have started. Were there drugs involved? Perhaps needed meds not taken? Alcohol? We don’t know.
The situation escalated when Gray got into a confrontation with a neighbour watering a garden then he ran off on foot east toward Burnaby when the neighbour called 9-1-1. VPD members were searching for their suspect in the disturbance calls when a female officer driving the wagon spotted him. He attacked the police vehicle forcing the member to lock herself in and call for backup.
Members arrived on scene and tried everything including pepper spray to take the crazed man into custody. It escalated into a knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out ground fight. In the process, Gray went into medical distress and VPD members performed CPR on him and brought him back from the abyss only to have him get up and start fighting again. This happened multiple times during the course of events. Think about that.
Paramedics were called but took 30 minutes to respond. Another significant contributing factor.
During the fight, of the five officers who were engaged, three suffered broken bones, one blew out a knee. One hasn’t been back to work since. One officer, privately, described Gray as “drugged out with super strength.”
In the media story VPU President Tom Stamatakis was quoted saying, “I don’t have confidence in the IIO in terms of how they treat police officers, who are doing exactly what the public expect of them in most cases”
It seems there’s a lot of that going on these days.
While I feel for the Gray family – no one should ever have to bury a child – the IIO has brought this on over the course of time. By treating police officers as criminals and seeking evidence to prosecute rather than seeking the truth in their investigations, they created an adversarial relationship.
I don’t know how this will end up, but what is clear in this is the government, at some point, is going to have to step in and find a solution to this impasse. It’s not getting any better and frankly, they created this monster and only they can fix it.