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Failings in police shooting investigation why civilian investigation essential

The BCCLA is concerned that critical issues in a 2009 police shooting were apparently not canvassed thoroughly by police investigators until more than two years after the original incident. The BCCLA says that the delay reflects why the civilian Independent Investigation Office must be operational as soon as possible, because the public simply does not have confidence that police will objectively, effectively and thoroughly investigate themselves.

The information comes from a report released yesterday by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner into the shooting of Eugene Knight by the VPD in September of 2009. The report says that the only living non-police witness said that she was walking away from her husband when he was shot repeatedly while lying on the ground. A telephone answering machine capturing audio from the incident recorded Eugene Knight saying he would put down the knife he was holding, just seconds before he was shot. Witness officers were not asked by investigators to explain these issues until two years after the incident, and then only at the request of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

“Two commissions of inquiry have recommended that the police no longer investigate policeinvolved deaths. While police are often held out as being expert investigators, their track record when it comes to investigating other police officers often has been shown to have serious lapses,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “Far too many key details get missed. Far too often police witnesses are either not interviewed fully or on a timely basis. Far too often obvious contradictions between official versions of events and what civilian witnesses and forensic evidence have to say are not explored.”

A report by VPD Professional Standards officer Inspector Steve Eely, who acted as the “Discipline Authority” under the Police Act investigation noted evidence existed that contradicted the involved officers’ statements, but that he decided to prefer the account given by the police officers, including what they said in “follow-up” interviews about the September 2009 shooting in January 2012 when the contradictions were finally put to them.

“While we are glad the OPCC is increasingly willing to ask difficult questions, we don’t  understand how those questions couldn’t be asked sooner, when memories were fresh,” noted Holmes. “British Columbians are entitled to complete, full, and independent investigations of police involved deaths, and the IIO will hopefully be able to offer that. The office must be made fully operational sooner, not later.”

Click here to read the case documents for the Eugene Knight death investigation

Media Contact:

Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, 604 838 6856
David Eby, Executive Director, 778 865 7997