Coroner's jury to probe fatal police shooting in B.C.

A coroner's jury probing the death of a Surrey, B.C., teenager who was shot by an officer while sitting in the passenger seat of a stolen SUV nearly two years ago will try to nail down what may have led up to the incident.

Surrey teen died while a passenger in stolen SUV

Kyle Tait, a Surrey teenager, was sitting in the passenger seat of a stolen SUV when he was shot to death by a British Columbia police officer.

Was the officer too quick to use his gun, or was a fellow officer's life in danger? A coroner's jury will attempt to find the truth at an inquest starting Monday in Vancouver.

Tait's family alleges in a lawsuit that Const. Todd Sweet approached the vehicle agitated and enraged after a police chase "and fired several bullets indiscriminately into the vehicle."

The New Westminster police version of the shooting paints a different picture.

The suspect vehicle rammed the police vehicle in the area of the passenger side, according to an August 2005 news release sent out two days after the incident. The officer on the passenger side was trapped in the police vehicle.

Police said the officer driving the vehicle fired three rounds from his weapon when the driver of the stolen vehicle failed to stop. One of those bullets hit the driver in the hand while a second bullet killed Tait, 16, where he sat.

Sweet, who has been on paid suspension for about a year for an incident unrelated to the shooting, wasn't charged in relation to Tait's death.

"There has been no criminal finding," said Sgt. Ivan Chu of the New Westminster Police Service.

Officer convicted of assault

Chu said the suspension came after a second allegation that Sweet kicked a suspect in the head while the man was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

Sweet admitted to assault in court last July and was given a suspended sentence.

The coroner's inquest, which will last about eight days, is not meant to find fault. The inquest is considered a fact-finding investigation and may not make any findings of legal responsibility.

Often a coroner's jury will make recommendations to prevent similar incidents. When Sweet fired into the stolen 1996 GMC Yukon, there were five teenagers inside.

Officers had pulled the vehicle over early that morning, but the 18-year-old driver then sped off when the officer walked to the driver's side door.

The five-minute pursuit wound into the neighbouring city of Burnaby, and eventually involved three New Westminster police cruisers and RCMP officers from Burnaby.

Driver draws prison term

The driver, Ian Campbell, was convicted of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property and operating a vehicle in police pursuit. He was given a 52-month prison term, minus 20 months for the time he spent in jail awaiting trial.

A charge of criminal negligence causing Tait's death was stayed by the court.

Tait's mother, Noel, and his stepfather, Kevin Webb, dispute the police version of the events in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

"At the time of the shooting, the vehicle's engine was not running and the five occupants were unarmed," the lawsuit states. "None of the occupants of the vehicle, including Kyle Tait, posed any risk of harm to the defendant."

A second damage lawsuit has been filed against Sweet and the City of New Westminster in connection with the assault case involving Sweet.

Once the inquest is complete, Chu said, an investigation under the Police Act will to determine what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken against Sweet in the shooting.

Chu said sanctions could range from a verbal reprimand to termination.