Steve Mesic had 'dead eyes' says officer who shot him

The inquest into the shooting death of Steve Mesic heard from the first of two police officers who shot him outside his Mountain home after the Hamilton man had checked himself out of a voluntary mental health care facility.
Steve Mesic was shot and killed in June 2013. An inquest into the former steelworker's death continues Thursday. (Mesic family)

Hamilton Police Cons. Kevin Farrell says he saw "dead eyes" and was pinned between a forest and fence when Steve Mesic "determinedly" moved at him with a shovel, held like a baseball bat. 

It was at that moment, Farrell told the inquest into Mesic's death Tuesday afternoon, that he discharged four hollow-point bullets into the torso of the 45-year-old father-to be. What came next was something the constable never expected.

Farrell told a packed courtroom, with Mesic's widow and mother of his eight-month-old child in the front row, that Mesic turned and walked another 30 feet before he dropped to the ground dead. "When I shot him," Farrell said. "He didn't moan, he didn't groan. He didn't acknowledge it at all… I thought I was shooting blanks."

Farrell was the first of two Hamilton police officers set to take the stand at the coroner's inquest into Mesic's death. He and officer Michael McClellan shot Mesic six times just steps from his home while he was wielding the shovel.

 An SIU investigation cleared both officers of any wrongdoing, but the 10-day inquest is looking into the circumstances that led to his death, including why police chose to use lethal force, as well as why Mesic was allowed to leave the hospital while he was having suicidal thoughts.

I'm thinking this guy is trying to get over the fence to attack us with the shovel.- Const. Kevin Farrell

Earlier in the day, the inquest heard that at the time the officers were confronting Mesic, staff at St. Joseph's mental health ward believed he was still on the ward.

Sharon Dorr, Mesic's fiancee, sat front row for the afternoon proceedings. She showed little emotion, but at times she leaned in with her hand covering her mouth as she stared at officer who put four of six bullets into Mesic's chest. 

Dorr heard that Farrell had pulled up beside Mesic while he was walking along the Lincoln Alexander Parkway near Upper Wentworth, a stone's throw from Mesic's home. It was there where the former bodybuilder said his only words to the officer. 

The final moments

"I'm just walking around," Farrell recalled Mesic saying with a blank stare. When a second officer, McClellan, arrived along side the highway, Farrell told the inquest that Mesic ran towards the homes beside the Linc. They pursued on foot when they heard what Farrell described as a loud bang. The two officers climbed through the brush that separated them, and found Mesic standing at the back door of a house. A fence separated the two parties.

"He was holding the shovel and trying to pry open the (patio) door," Farrell said.

When Mesic began to walk towards the two officers, they drew their firearms. 

"I'm thinking this guy is trying to get over the fence to attack us with the shovel," Farrell said

He told the inquest it took Mesic, who was on injury leave from work, between three and five seconds to lift up the chain link fence to crawl underneath it. 

Farrell said he was pinned between the forest, and Mesic coming at him with a shovel.

"I'm thinking I can't move," said Farrell, a 6-foot-five, 245-pound officer who started with Hamilton police in 2007. "He's going to try and take my head off with it."

They opened fire, Farrell discharging four bullets, but he said Tuesday Mesic didn't immediately go down and instead turned and walked 30 feet away from the two officers.

"I was looking through the haze of gun smoke as he was walking away, said Farrell. "I thought how did this man not go down."

Tuesday's testimony broke shortly after the officer's recollection of the events. Dorr declined to comment on the testimony after the inquest broke for the day. 

Hospital confusion

She had not been in court earlier in the day when the inquest heard that at the same time Mesic was shot up the Mountain, nurses on the locked down psychiatric ward of St. Joseph's Hospital thought he was in their ward. Their records, taken every fifteen minutes, show him there. 

The inquest also heard that the doctor who knew Mesic had suicidal thoughts but still granted him voluntary status the day before he was killed, which allowed him to leave the locked-down ward, said it is "impossible" for anyone in her field to know when suicidal thoughts turn into action. 

He was listed in there as having been on the unit. I couldn't find him.- Nurse Valentina Ivankovic

St. Joseph's Hospital head of psychiatry Dr. Patricia Rosebush finished her testimony Tuesday morning.

"He didn't deny he had suicidal thoughts," Rosebush said of her June 6, 2013, assessment of Mesic. "It's that he did not believe he would ever act on them."

After that assessment, Mesic was granted voluntary status at the hospital, and allowed "off-ward" passes. The next day he walked out of a locked psychiatric ward, and attempted to step in front of traffic twice - once at the Jolly Cut and later on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway near Upper Wentworth. He then walked up the berm towards his townhouse where he met the two police officers who shot him. Yet, as the inquest heard Tuesday, staff at St. Joe's still believed he was in the building. 

Valentina Ivankovic, a nurse who had Mesic as one of her "primary patients" the day he went missing, told the inquest that nurses on the 10th floor, 30-patient ward, staffed with six other nurses, a psychiatrist and a charge nurse, recorded that Mesic was on the ward as late as 10:45. 

"I was assigned to 11 o'clock rounds… I wanted to make him aware that there would be a change in the medication that morning," Ivankovic told the inquest. "I looked in the tough book (which tracks patients)… He was listed in there as having been on the unit. I couldn't find him."

"They (the other nurses) said that they had seen him on the unit, as late as 10:45 a.m.

"I still couldn't find him."

Impossible to predict

Ivankovic would later say she was "shocked" to learn Mesic was the victim in a police shooting that afternoon. But before her testimony ended, she said there was a small debriefing meeting that day with the nurses as to how Mesic was recorded on the ward while he had clearly signed out at 8:15 that morning and never returned. 

Neither Ivankovic or Dr. Rosebush believed Mesic was suicidal. While they believed he had suicidal thoughts, both said he had no plan to act on them.

"It's impossible to predict," Dr. Rosebush said of the change from suicidal ideations to actions. "And you make a clinical judgement. I was shocked."

Both drivers that Mesic attempted to step in front of were also at court to recount their recollection of the events, nearly a year old now. 

In the case of Douglas Dilbart, a now retired HSR bus driver, he saw Mesic shortly after he walked out of the hospital. Mesic tried to step in front of the bus he was driving down the Jolly Cut.

"At the last second walked out in front of (my bus), open his arms up, closed his eyes and waited for (the bus) to hit him," Dilbart said.

"I almost got that bus stopped before i contacted him and knocked him down."

But Mesic got up seemingly unfazed. He continued up the mountain, and was later spotted walking on the shoulder of the Linc. 

Marcel Hozel saw Mesic eying his one-ton work truck. 

"As he got closer it looked like he was going to run," Hozel told the inquest. "I was thinking I better get out of the way… He did run, I swerved very hard, all the way to the curb on the other side… As that happened i heard a lot of brakes squealing behind me."

The 911 call that followed signalled the police response that turned fatal for Mesic. 

The 10-day inquest continues Wednesday with the remainder of Farrell's testimony, one of nearly 20 witnesses who will take the stand over the two-week period. 


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