B.C.’s civilian police watchdog is taking Vancouver’s police chief and seven officers to court over what it claims is a failure to co-operate with an investigation.
At issue is the Independent Investigations Office probe into a fatal police-involved shooting at an East Vancouver Canadian Tire on November 10, 2016.
Daniel Rintoul was shot dead after allegedly taking a customer hostage.
Now the IIO claims a group of “witness officers” to the incident are refusing to attend interviews, and that VPD chief Adam Palmer has “failed to comply with his duties” by refusing to order them to.
In all, it claims the IIO tried to set up more than 40 interviews, but none of the seven officers showed up citing several reasons, including night shifts, training courses, and unresolved disclosure issues.
The sticking point? The suit claims they want access to audio and video recordings of the incident before they meet.
“CAD (“Computer Aided Dispatch”) printout, transcripts of dispatch audio, and all available incident video related to the Canadian Tire Investigation, and providing same to the involved officers.”
The petition alleges the IIO agreed it would potentially allow officers limited access to some material before interviews, so long as they didn’t have the potential to “augment or influence the officer’s recollection,” and that “it was unlikely any video would be released to officers prior to their initial interview.”
Vancouver Police Union President Tom Stamatakis says if anyone is being unreasonable, it’s the IIO.
“The officers have said repeatedly that they’re prepared to cooperate but what they’d like to do is review their notes or records depicting what they did, how they responded, prior to participating in an interview so that whatever interview they provide can be as accurate and complete as possible.”
The IIO’s petition argues it is unwilling to provide the evidence to officers because it wants their unfiltered perception of what occurred on the day in question:
“Dangers of witness tainting through exposure to real evidence or other external information frequently arise in criminal cases involving eyewitness identification.”
But Stamatakis says witnesses’ memories of quickly unfolding events are often wrong, especially with the passage of time, asking officers to testify something that may turn out to be incorrect could put them in legal jeopardy.
“Police investigators routinely provide information to witnesses and/or suspects prior to interviewing them so that they can conduct the best, most complete interview in the course of their investigation. So we’re not asking for anything that’s not already being done widely as a police practice.”
According to the suit the dispute over interviews began on November 11, just one day after the incident, with an officer failing to show up to a meeting.
In the days and weeks following, it claims the other officers also backed off and sought legal representation.
That dispute has now carried on for more than five months, reaching an impasse earlier this month when the IIO’s acting Interim Chief Civilian Director Albert Phipps wrote to VPD Chief Palmer asking him to order the officers to comply.
“Chief Palmer replied in correspondence … and advised he had ‘decided to seek legal advice’ on the matter.”
However, under the IIO’s Memorandum of Understanding with police forces, witness officers are required to participate in an interview with an IIO investigator withing 24 hours of being contacted.
The IIO claims the VPD has no right to dictate the terms of witnesses cooperation, and that the officers are in violation of their legal duty.
It’s asking the court to both compel Chief Palmer order them to agree to interviews, and order the officers themselves to talk.
Both the IIO and Vancouver Police Department say they won’t comment with the matter before the courts.
None of these claims has been proven in court.
It’s not the only incident in which the IIO and the VPD are at odds. Several witness officers from the scene of
Several witness officers from the scene of Myles Gray’s police-involved death in 2015 are also refusing to be interviewed.
Stamatakis says in that case, the issue is largely the same – officers want access to records from the day of the incident, and are concerned they could get in legal trouble if they remember things differently than the evidence.
With files from John Hua, Global News