Hamilton officers won't shoot to stop a vehicle

New policy among six recommendations resulting from the inquest into the shooting death of Phonesay Chanthachack.

Police have implemented 6 of 8 inquest recommendations after death of Phonesay Chanthachack

Phonesay Chanthachack, left, is shown with partner Natasha Thompson and daughters Hana and Miyoko. The 27-year-old was shot and killed during a confrontation with Hamilton police last year. Police have implemented six of the eight recommendations resulting from his inquest. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Thompson)

Hamilton police officers will no longer shoot at vehicles to stop them under a new policy resulting from an inquest last year.

The Hamilton Police Service policy dictating suspect pursuit now reads that officers can't fire their weapons “for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle.” They also can’t shoot at someone driving a vehicle unless someone’s life is threatened.

It’s just one of the changes implemented after last year’s inquest into the death of Phonesay Chanthachack, who was shot and killed by Const. Ryan Tocher on Feb. 13, 2012.

Chanthachack, 27, was driving a stolen van at 15 Albright Rd. near a high school when Tocher shot him twice through the window. Chanthachack tried to drive away and the van crashed into a pole.

During the inquest, police lawyers said Tocher was in danger and shot to subdue the vehicle. Lawyers for the Chanthachack family argued that the victim might not have known that Tocher was a police officer.

Last June, an inquest jury made eight recommendations to Hamilton police. The service has implemented six of them, Chief Glenn De Caire said Tuesday.

“It’s a quick turnaround because we treat these matters with significance in policing,” he said.

“One of the stated criticisms is that inquest jury recommendations are not implemented. That is not true in Hamilton Police Services. We’ve established our committee, we’ve gone through the recommendations, we’ve put in place our plans and we’ve already implemented six of eight.”

Other changes as a result of the inquest:

  • Officers will receive training on “dangerously operated vehicles,” including the potential risks of shooting someone who is driving.
  • Plainclothes officers will wear lanyards around their necks displaying their badge and police photo ID. The lanyard will be concealed under the officer’s shirt but displayed when the situation requires it.
  • Officers will fill out a standard operating plan form when they expect to take down a suspect, conduct search warrants or go undercover. A supervisor must approve the form.
  • Officers will undergo a half-day refresher course on topics such as stopping high-risk vehicles, equipment, planning and risk assessment.
  • Use of force training instructors will review the Chanthachack incident during training.
  • Officers involved in incidents where suspects are killed will debrief with the use of force sergeant.
  • A divisional commander may also require that the officer meet with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Two recommendations remain: that plain-door police vehicles have darker tinted windows, and that two-way radios be used during surveillance.

The radios will cost about $125,000, De Caire said. Police have also budgeted to outfit 25 plain-door vehicles with subtle police identifiers in 2014.

Tocher is back on duty. The Special Investigations Unit investigated and cleared him of wrongdoing in the Chanthachack shooting.

He has been involved in other controversial incidents.

He was charged but found not guilty in the beating of Po La Hay during a botched drug raid in May 2010. He was also cleared in 2007 after the shooting death of Cambodian refugee Soun Saing, who assaulted the owner of a pool hall.

Hamilton police will soon be involved in another use-of-force inquest. Coronor Jack Stanborough will conduct an inquest this year into the death of Steve Mesic, who was shot and killed by police on June 7, 2013.

Members of Mesic's family have attended police services board meetings ever since.