The parents of 33 year old Myles Gray say they just want answers, six months after their son's mysterious death in a Burnaby backyard—and to try to get them, they're suing the Vancouver Police force and 11 of its officers.
Margie and Mark Gray of Sechelt allege seven of those officers, identified only as "John Does", wrongfully killed their son by beating him to death, using "grossly excessive force" and "inflicting massive physical trauma … with no valid, lawful reason".
The police takedown occurred on the afternoon of August 13, when officers responded to a call about a disturbance in the 3600 block of South East Marine Drive.
Myles Gray, who worked as a greenery supplier to local florist wholesalers, got into an argument with a woman who was watering her garden during drought restrictions.
Vancouver police officers chased Gray across a Boundary Road overpass into Burnaby, before using "chemical agents" and then "physical force" to restrain him. Gray was pronounced dead a short time later.
The lawsuit, filed in BC Supreme court, states Gray was "alone, unarmed, dressed in shorts and not engaged in any criminal activity during his interactions with the seven officers."
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, the dead man's mother, Margie Gray, 52, fought back tears. She said her son's injuries were so severe, the funeral home advised against an open-casket funeral.
"Why was he killed off, just hunted down like a dog, killed like a dog, worse than a dog? Just beat down by seven police."
"I want answers. I want to know what happened that day," said Margie, "It's the worst. It is horrific. And to know this went down at the hands of people you're supposed to trust."
Mark Gray, 58, said the loss of his son has been devastating.
"I just miss my son, my best friend. I've only got one son," he said. "(I) just feel like somebody punched a hole right through me and it's never going to fill up. It's a horrible thing. He was a good man."
'Police ... impeded the investigation'
The lawsuit also alleges, "the police unlawfully impeded the investigation … by the Independent Investigations Office" — the province's police watchdog agency that reviews police-involved deaths — "by failing to immediately notify the IIO of the killing."
The couple allege that during the delay, "officers failed to preserve evidence" and "conferred among themselves."
The Grays, along with Myle Gray's evergreen supply company, Graystone Enterprises Ltd, also name the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Board in the lawsuit, blaming the board for "failing properly and effectively to educate, train and supervise the officers to appropriate professional standards."
They're seeking unspecified damages.
None of the allegations has been proven in court, and the Vancouver Police Department, Police Board and City of Vancouver have yet to file a response.
Contacted by CBC News, Vancouver Police said, "It wouldn't be appropriate for the VPD to comment on an ongoing IIO investigation or a pending civil process."
Margie Gray says she has been told her son died within minutes of his encounter with Vancouver officers.
"This is 'comply or die' policing. Like, what was the rush to move in and kill him?" she asks.
Mark Gray adds "You know, they could have let him calm down …. like a person's life is worth more than a (few) minutes, right?"
Violent physical takedown
The case dates back to the hot summer afternoon of August 13th last year. As a supplier of greenery to florists, Myles Gray was on his regular run to flower wholesalers clustered around Boundary Road and Marine Drive in Burnaby.
Around 2 p.m., he wandered away from a loading bay and crossed a small overpass above Boundary Road, ending up nearby in the 36 hundred block of South East Marine Drive in Vancouver.
There, a neighbour tells CBC News, Gray got into an argument with a woman who was watering her garden during drought restrictions.
The woman's son stepped in and called 911.
In a news release issued at the time, Vancouver police say they responded to a call of a distraught man causing a disturbance.
"He became agitated and additional officers were called to the scene," reads the police account. "Attempts to subdue the man with chemical agents were unsuccessful. A physical altercation ensued, resulting in injuries to the man and six officers. Paramedics were called to attend to the man. He died at the scene."
Gray's parents say he was a gentle man, who enjoyed body building and being fit — but at five foot ten, always walked away from a fight.
They concede he might have had some kind of an outburst August 13, but it was out of character.
"Maybe he was having an emotional meltdown. He was probably in a vulnerable state," said Margie Gray. "They pursued him for sure. What he needed probably was some compassion."
For the past six months, authorities have been silent on the cause of Gray's death — the B.C. Coroners Service told the CBC it's unable to comment while the Independent Investigations Office investigates.
In a statement to CBC News, IIO spokesman Marten Youssef said, "Our investigation in this critical incident is ongoing. We are currently waiting on third party reports."
He adds there are reasons for the delay: "The timeliness of our investigations has suffered recently, in large part, as the result of a rash of officer-involved shootings and police-involved fatalities throughout the province that began in September of 2014 and continued for the better part of a year (a total of 20 shootings and fatalities in a period of 12 months)."
Calls for better training
The Grays say the way their son died in the altercation with Vancouver Police shows de-escalation training has to be improved. They hope their son didn't die in vain and that changes will come — sparked, in part, by their lawsuit.
"They should definitely have better training," says Mark Gray. "If there's seven of them, one should have said, 'Hey, let's back off' and treat this a little differently in how it went down. It could have gone down a lot differently. And Myles could have been alive today."
Adds Margie Gray, "There needs to be a change in the way they deal with people. They need more training in their de-escalation skills. They just need more training, period … no one should have to live through what we've been living through. It's a living hell. I do not want any family to ever have to go through what we've been going through."
Six months after his son's death, Gray struggles to keep his emotions under control.
"I want my son back, but that's never going to happen. It could be (that) other people will have their son killed, and it's just not right the way they treat people. It's just not right."