Friday 5 December 2014

Cops firing their guns unnecessarily (Part 2)

The unnecessary shooting of citizens who are not any real danger to the cops that shoot them are brought about by cowardice and stupidity on the part of the shooters. I remember reading years ago where a cop shot a deaf man to death after asking the man to identify himself. Since the man was deaf, he could only read the cop’s lips so he reached into his back pocket to withdraw his card that identified him as a deaf man and was immediately shot to death by the stupid cop. He later said that he thought the man was reaching for a gun. The cop was too much of a coward to wait until he at least saw what was in the man’s hand. A month doesn’t go by before we read about more citizens being shot by cops who are both cowards and ignorant. What follows is a case in point.

On December 2, 2013, Michael MacIsaac’s blue-green eyes were open and blinking up at the cloudy sky, His chest rose and fell in a rhythm typical of those who are living. Michael on the other hand was dying. He was laying in the middle of a street in Ajax, Ontario, a small city just east of Toronto. The police had shot him two times in his abdomen.

Prior to him being shot, at just before 10 a.m., Michael appeared in the hallway of his home entirely naked, having stripped off his pajamas. He seemed delirious, speaking but not making sense. Startled, his wife corralled him back in the bedroom from where he had been heading for the stairs. Back in the bedroom, Michael, agitated, kept pushing back as his wife was to trying to restrain him.

Michael had never been that violent before. He was generally mild-mannered, a big kid often found on the floor playing with his 10 nieces and nephews. At that moment however, his sister-in-law, Violet Madjarian arrived as usual to drop off her small dog and saw the commotion between Michael and his wife. Michael bumped into his sister-in-law as he ran past her going down the stairs.

Why would a man go outside in freezing weather and at the same time, be totally naked?  He did it because he was mentally disturbed through no fault of his own.
Michael grew up in the lush green expanse of Codroy Valley on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland. The family farm was so sprawling even a brood of six wander-lusting children—five girls and one boy (Michael) who had never fully explored the outer reaches of the farm.

His childhood was not an easy one. The scrawny boy with parted auburn hair and toothpick arms was bullied mercilessly. One day a schoolyard incident had changed his life forever.  A pair of boys several years older than Michael was, grabbed him by his ankles and spun him around before letting go, as if tossing him into a trash pile. Unfortunately, he sailed into the air and his head struck the trunk of a tree.

Michael’s head smashed into the side of a tree. When he stood up to escape his tormentors, he came crashing down again, smashing his head on rocks on the ground. The second time, he couldn’t get up.

The school nurse drove him, unconscious, 30 minutes back to the farm where she plopped the tiny boy into his mother’s arms. Then another 40 minutes passed during the taxi trip along a winding highway to a clinic.

Michael gained consciousness just before arriving and began to vomit. He was examined and found to have no external damage after being kept overnight. MacIsaac and his mother were then sent home.

I can see two mistakes so far. The nurse should have had him taken directly to the clinic instead of to his home. The clinic should have kept Michael longer in the clinic to see if there were any brain injuries yet unseen. 

While he was attending college years later, he took on a job laying bricks. Michael began getting the feelings of pins and needles in his arms. Another time while walking, he just collapsed. A few months later it would happen again. After seeing neurology experts in St. John’s, an MRI revealed scar tissue on his brain. He was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy—the collapses believed to be brought on by seizures.

The day before he died, Sunday, December 1, Michael didn’t look well. He was running a fever, had no appetite and was dazed. Then he had a typical seizure, the kind where his arm would twist in on itself, departing from the logical alignment of the rest of his body as he tried to hold on to it with his cooperative arm. .

In the moments between seizure and lucidity, he wouldn’t always make sense, but would often become overtly spiritual. “God has a plan for me,” he would say.

That Sunday, his wife, Marianne gave Michael his medication—two common anti-convulsive pills taken three times a day and Tylenol for his fever. The medication never eliminated all his seizures, but he took it diligently. That afternoon his wife tucked Michael into bed, building cushiony walls around him so he wouldn’t fall and hit his head against a nearby dresser.

The next morning, December 2, his wife, who works as a travel agent, was on the phone with a client upstairs in their home. MacIsaac called in sick to work and was resting in the nearby bedroom

As I mentioned earlier in this article, Michael’s sister-law, Violet Madjarian arrived as usual to drop off her small dog and saw the commotion between Michael and his wife. Michael bumped into his sister-in-law as he ran past her going down the stairs. He ran out the front door and into the near-freezing weather—while totally naked.

MacIsaac ran west when he left the house. He ran so fast, his wife couldn’t chase after him and had to stay with her elderly father. Where he went next is not clear, but after heading south he started drawing the attention of drivers and pedestrians. Several people called Durham police, who according to the SIU, noted “multiple disturbance calls regarding a man acting in a strange manner.”

Natasha Khan first saw MacIsaac walking south on Westney Rd., a major street just a block from his home. She said, “He was walking as though he was just normal,” Khan, a daycare supervisor at the Smart Start Learning Centre, located in a strip mall just off Westney Rd., later told the Toronto Star, “Like he was fully clothed. He wasn’t shivering or anything. No shoes. Nothing.”

Durham-area resident Kristin Bennett was driving north on Westney Rd. when she spotted him — now one kilometre from his home — heading back in the direction he had just come from.

Further up Westney Rd. minutes later, Rubie Supnet had just got off the bus from school — a block from Michael’s home when she spotted him jogging towards her. She said, “I couldn’t help but notice the way he jogged. He would stop every few seconds, jog on the spot and look around.  At one point he waved and as he got closer I realized he was naked.”

Not long after Khan first saw MacIsaac, another daycare employee came inside with a group of children and said the man was heading back their way, jogging across Williamson Dr. and up Dring Street towards his home. Khan was on the phone with police when she saw him again, jogging with his hands covering his groin. That could be for two reasons. Either he was bashful or he was protecting his penis from the freezing cold—which can be very painful if not protected.
Bennett had also continued towards Dring St. and at one point, MacIsaac started approaching cars. He banged his fists on Bennett’s hood, yelling nonsensically for her to, “Turn it off” (Bennett, who is deaf, wears cochlear implants and is able to read lips.) He repeated it over and over before moving on. Bennett parked up Dring St. some 10 metres away.

Shelley Allen-Groves was returning to her Dring St. home after dropping her daughter off at daycare when she saw Michael. He started banging on the windows of another black truck on the street before it pulled away. As Allen-Groves pulled into her driveway, Michael came toward the house. She wondered if he needed help and called 911. She was still on the phone when he started banging on the car window and swearing at her to open it.

She told the man she was on the phone and that help was coming. But it only seemed to make matters worse, she said. Michael picked up a large rock from her nearby garden and walked toward the car. Allen-Groves backed out of the driveway and stopped a few houses away. She and Bennett both saw the man disappear onto her front porch.  The naked man banged a small patio table off a side window, breaking off its wicker top. Returning to the road, he was now carrying the wrought-iron leg like a baseball bat, as two police cruisers approached him. Bennett and Allen-Groves were the only witnesses as to what followed.

Three officers got out and lifted their guns from their holsters. As Michael stepped off the curb, one officer aimed and fired three times. Bennett saw the movements of the office’s hand, the gun and the sound of the shots. Bennett said that Michael was not swinging the iron leg that was in his hand. After being shot, Michael was standing with both hands clutching his stomach. Two of the uniformed officers, with their guns still pointed at Michael, demanded that he get on the ground. Michael complied—either by choice or because he had fallen there. He was lying face down on the asphalt, moaning in pain. One of the officers went to the car and pulled out a yellow blanket and slowly unfolded it. I don’t know what he did with it but he probably placed it around Michael when they got him to his feet. One of the officers said to Michael, “You will be OK. You will be OK.”

When a third officer appeared in view of a witness, the witness  later she said that she heard him quietly tell the officer who fired his gun to leave by saying, “Go, go, go.” It’s not clear if the officer left, or what was meant by telling him to leave. I don’t see how he could leave without driving the patrol car the three officers arrived at from the scene of the shooting.

What is not clear is why the standardized ambulance form notes “Trauma Unknown” for the type of call made by the police. Did one of the officers at the scene not inform the Emergency Services (EMS) dispatcher that one of the officers had just shot someone? Why not? How could the officer making the call not have known that the man was shot by one of the police officers? Troy Cheseboro, superintendent of professional standards for Durham EMS later said, “They didn’t know what they were going for.”

When they arrived on the scene, the officers told the paramedics that they had found Michael MacIsaac on the street yelling and that he had been aggressive with a metal pipe. Then they told the paramedics they had shot him with a 40 glock handgun (which is a standard-issue police firearm).

It was only learned later by the police that Michael had been having behavioral problems. This is something that the police should have presumed when they confronted him on the street considering the fact that the man they had confronted was totally naked in public in freezing weather. That would have been a clear indication that they were dealing with a man who was mentally unstable or in the alternative, was under the influence of drugs.

I don’t know why this man initially chose to have an iron leg from a table in his hands. Perhaps it was to scare people away from him. Nevertheless, when the police approached him and he stepped off the curb, (and according to the witnesses—he wasn’t waving the item in a menacing manner) the officer that shot him had panicked.

I can appreciate the concern the officer had when he was being approached by a man with a “weapon” in his hand but it seems to me that if the man wasn’t running towards him waving the iron leg in the air, the officer wasn’t in immediate danger. He could have backed away and tried to reason with the man. Instead, he shot him three times. Why three times? Once would be enough to stop the man in his tracks.

Michael was sedated. Soon after arriving at Rouge Valley Hospital, he was prepped to be flown to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto by helicopter (an ORNGE helicopter—the name of the company that operates those air ambulances).  He stopped breathing twice while in the air.

Minutes after arriving at the hospital, (2:15 pm) two men in suits arrived to interview the family. They were Detective Jim Leipsig and Detective Rob Moore from the Durham police. They were assigned to the homicide squad.  They began asking questions, something the family has concerns about.

While the Special Investigations Unit is legally mandated to be the lead investigator, what police are able to do during that investigation is not always clear in the law.

One of the detectives said to the family, “Right now it’s only about you and Michael. All right? We want the best for everybody here. And we want to find the truth and that’s the whole reason [why] we’re here.”

Then the second detective started in on the line of questioning. He asked about Michael’s previous behaviour, his medication, his history with drugs and alcohol. They asked his wife to explain what happened at the house. At one point, when the family asked if they should have a lawyer present, one of the detectives told them there was no need to “spend money on an attorney.” He was quite wrong when he made that statement. It seems to me that those two officers were trying to find evidence to prove that the shooting was necessary. Further, it wasn’t their job to make those enquiries.

His family said in the chaos that afternoon that they never realized that the detectives were from the same police force as the officer who had done the  shooting of their loved one. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is provincially mandated to be the lead investigator in police shootings and as such, they take over control of any scene where the shooting takes place and the interviewing of witnesses.

What makes this case even murkier is what took place when the SIS investigators arrived. One of them said, “Hi guys, we’re with the SIU.” I don’t know if they were addressing that statement to the family or the Durham police officers.

The Durham detectives explained that they got permission to interview the victim’s family from their superior in order to get information about the domestic history of the family. There was some confusion as the SIS investigator calls someone in his office to tell them two Durham detectives are already in the room. For reasons that are not clear, the Durham police detectives continued interviewing Michael’s family.

That should not have happened. The SIS investigators should have escorted the Durham police detectives out of the room and asked them what they had learned thus far and then told them that that the SIS was taking over the investigation.

Instead, the SIS detectives told the family there are often two investigations that run “parallel” and they actually just want to know about what happened “prior to” the incident including everything that happened once Michael had left the house.  

I don’t know of parallel investigations by two police organizations but at that particular moment, the SIS should have been doing the questioning of the witnesses and not the Durham police detectives.  

As the family continued to wait at the hospital, his wife Marianne alleged that more Durham officers (three in uniform) showed up at their Unsworth Cres. home and gained entry without a warrant by intimidating the caregiver tending to her elderly father.

The officers searched the house from top to bottom, photographing and sifting through personal belongings. The family now believes the police acted out of turn—fishing for information about Michael as he was dying in the hospital. It was necessary to conduct such an investigation but it should have only been conducted by the SIS and only after obtaining a search warrant.

 The SIU regulations don’t specifically prohibit police from conducting an investigation, but a 1998 report by Justice George Adams which resulted in the current regulations, identified problems with police interference. In Justice Adam’s report, he wrote in his report;

“There have been occasions when, by the time the SIU investigators arrived, civilian witnesses had been interviewed by the police and released.  Pending the arrival of the SIU, attending officers shall do all that is immediately necessary to preserve not only the integrity of the incident scene, but also the integrity of the investigation.”

It seems to me that the integrity of the investigation of Michael’s past by the Durham police was breached for the obvious reason, it being that the Durham police had a vested interest in this case—to prove that the police officer who shot Michael did no wrong.    Is that not unlike permitting a burglar to conduct the investigation of the burglary?

SIU spokesperson Jasbir Brar said that generally the SIU are lead investigators when their mandate is invoked. In this particular case, because a police officer shot a civilian, the SIS mandate to conduct the investigation was definitely invoked.

Brar also said, “Where a police service has its own bona fide investigative interest, the SIU is willing to make arrangements with the police to allow them to conduct their own investigation, so long as their involvement does not undermine the SIU’s case and its independence.” 

My concern about that statement is that the SIS has no way of knowing if the municipal police investigators are hiding evidence that may be in conflict with their own vested interest.  In my opinion, the municipal police investigators should wait until the SIS has completed its own investigation before they conduct their own investigation.                                                   

In the early morning hours, all of Michael’s family who had made it to the hospital gathered around his bed as medical staff was prepared to take him off life support.

His wife pleaded with nurses, asking if there was any way to keep Michael alive until his mother could make it to the hospital. She had been visiting one of her daughters in Minnesota. Her flight was due to land later that night. They were told that taking Michael off life support couldn’t wait. It is beyond my understanding as to why the hospital couldn’t wait. Did they want the bed for someone else?

Around 3:30 a.m. his wife called Michael’s mother, sisters, nieces and nephews on four phones, put them on speaker and placed them on the pillow next to his head. As the family already in the hospital stood around him, holding his hands, the hospital chaplain said a few words and led them in prayer.

Almost 2,000 kilometres away, his mother, who had carried her auburn-haired boy, limp, to the hospital when he was hurt all those years ago, listened to his last rites. She said; “I love you Michael, I love you Michael,” she cried over and over into his ear. “Oh God, please take him.” It took 45 minutes for him to die.

His sister Joanne now travels with a black portfolio stuffed with notes, maps, and folders full of research on hollow-point bullets, the police and epilepsy. They have already been to see Ontario ombudsman André Marin, staff from Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office and other officials. She wonders why the bullets that do so much damage are standard issue in Ontario.

His family said that they would like to see better recruitment and training for officers who are taught by the Ontario Police College.  One former trainer earlier told the Toronto Star—“We train them to shoot until the threat has stopped.”

What threat? The man wasn’t an immediate threat to the officer who shot him. He could have shot him in the arm holding the iron table leg or in the shoulder or in his leg. Instead, he fired three hollow-point bullets into his abdomen where the chances of any person being shot by such bullets, living though the damaged to his organs would be slim at best. Hollow point bullets are so lethal that the Hague Convention does not allow their use on the battle field in time of war. Hollow point bullets don’t just stop or hurt people, they penetrate the body, spread out, fragment and cause maximum damage to the body’s organs. Death often follows, as it did with Michael. It is unfortunate that police officers in Canada and in other countries are allowed to use such ammunition. My concern is that the when the police shoot people with hollow-point bullets, it is for the purpose of killing them, not just stopping them from advancing towards them. It is my belief that the officer that shot Michel three times in his abdomen intended to kill him.

In August 2013, the Ontario government announced that Tasers can be made available to all frontline officers, not just the supervising officers and special units who now carry them. A Taser is what should have been in that police officer’s hand. With the government’s decision to allow such weapons to be given to front-line officers, local police forces can decide whether to allow their officers to carry conducted energy weapons or not. It will also be the police force's responsibility to cover the cost of approximately $1,500 per Taser.

Of course, there are instances in which people shot by Tasers have died. Dante Parker, a father of five children, was tasered by the police and died in in California recently for an alleged attempted burglary. And we all know about that horrible incident at the Vancouver International Airport when a man from Poland who didn’t speak English and who had a stapler in his hand, was tasered to death by a number of police officers. Between 2003 and now, there have been 26 people who died as a result after being tasered by the police. 

In my opinion, this shooting of Michael MacIsaac and the subsequent investigation of this particular shooting was and still is a colossal screw-up.  Michael’s wife wants to know the name of the officer who fired the shots that killed her husband. In the immediate aftermath and the months that have passed since the shooting of Michael MacIsaac she still doesn’t know.  I think many are asking the same question.

Are the Durham police attempting to make an apple pie out of a cow pie?  I hope this isn’t a cover-up. We all know what happens when cover-ups are uncovered. 

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