Watchdog's investigation into fatal police shooting was flawed, review says

A review of one of the first major cases probed by B.C.’s independent police watchdog has revealed significant gaps in training and investigative processes.

Delta police officer was charged with murder in 2012 incident, but charge was eventually stayed

Mehrdad Bayrami died in hospital 10 days after he was shot in the abdomen by a police officer. (Shane MacKichan/CBC)

A review of one of the first major cases probed by B.C.'s independent police watchdog has revealed significant gaps in training and investigative processes.

In a report released this week, former RCMP superintendent Doug Kiloh wrote that the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. "did not meet all the expectations of a well-developed investigative unit" during its investigation into a fatal police shooting outside New Westminster's Starlight Casino in 2012.

"The IIO lacked clear policies, processes, procedures and training for its investigators, all of which contributed to the various challenges. The overarching issue is that the investigation lacked focus, detail and a disciplined structure," Kiloh wrote.

The IIO commissioned the review in response to a complaint from the Delta Police Association.

A five-hour standoff ended when police shot an armed man in front of the Starlight Casino on Nov. 8, 2012. (Shane MacKichan/CBC)

Mehrdad Bayrami, 48, was shot by Delta police during an armed standoff on Nov. 8, 2012. He died in hospital 10 days later.

The IIO's investigation into the shooting resulted in Crown counsel laying a second-degree murder charge against Const. Jordan MacWilliams of the Delta Police Department, but that charge was stayed in 2015.

Kiloh's review of the investigation identified several problems with the IIO's processes, including issues with conducting interviews and handling evidence, a lack of consistent training for investigators, flaws in the report to Crown and a failure to use an acceptable case management system.

The investigation began just two months after the IIO opened its doors, and the review points out that the watchdog "has made significant improvements" in the years since Bayrami was killed.

But, Kiloh added, "significant investment in training will need to continue to ensure high quality investigations are the standard."

Issues with interviews, evidence

One of the major shortcomings in the investigation was in the interview process, according to Kiloh's review.

For one thing, IIO investigators chose not to interview Bayrami, who lived for 10 days after he was shot and was in stable condition for the last three days of his life. The reasons for that decision were not documented, according to Kiloh.

Meanwhile, the IIO depended on a police statement given by Bayrami's former partner, who was taken hostage during the standoff, rather than interviewing her directly.

The IIO's handling of evidence was also "not well executed," according to Kiloh. Investigators failed to seize all available video from the casino and request complete forensic testing of the evidence available.

The Delta Police Association filed a complaint with the IIO about the investigation. (CBC)

The IIO's chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald, wrote in a statement that he accepted all of the recommendations in the review.

"We will always work to improve where necessary," MacDonald said.

He added that the watchdog has made "numerous" changes to its operations in the meantime.

"These include the adoption of a manual of investigations that guides investigative practices, development of a witness and affected person strategy, more rigorous training for investigators, an improved system to manage and process evidence and a new approach in presenting cases to Crown counsel," he said.

Strained relationship

The Bayrami investigation resulted in significant tension between Delta police officers and the IIO.

At one point, the Delta Police Department's website and social media account promoted the sale of blue wristbands meant to show support for MacWilliams, the charged officer. The DPD eventually pulled the ads in response to complaints.

Despite changes to the IIO's procedures outlined in Kiloh's report, the relationship between the watchdog and some police officers is still strained.

The IIO and the Vancouver Police Department, for example, are currently locked in a legal battle over the investigation into the 2016 shooting death of Daniel Peter Rintoul.

The watchdog has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking that seven VPD officers co-operate with its investigators.