- Mesic described as 'in a trance' while wielding a shovel
- Officers not aware of Mesic's mental illness or his previous suicide attempts
- Both officer said non-lethal alternatives not an option
- Both officers used profanity during exchang with Mesic, jury heard
- Inquest continues Thursday
A year after the shooting death of Steve Mesic, Const. Michael McLellan said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about what happened in a Mountain-area backyard among the overgrown grass littered with broken branches.
McLellan, one of the two Hamilton police officers involved in the death of 45-year-old Mesic, testified at a coroner's inquest Wednesday afternoon, painting a dramatic picture of the events that unfolded in June 2013.
Mesic, a former steelworker, was shot on June 7, 2013, just steps away from his own home near Lincoln Alexander Parkway and Upper Wentworth. The incident took place shorty after Mesic checked himself out of a voluntary mental health facility at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. McLellan and Farrell both say they had not choice but to use lethal force in the circumstances.
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McLellan said when he saw Mesic at the back of a home, wielding a shovel in what he described as “a baseball stance,” he thought Mesic was trying to break into someone's home, and he feared for his own safety, the safety of those that might be in the house, and the public safety.
“He starts walking towards us ... It was obvious he was trying to come at us,” he told the inquest. “I think [the shovel] is going to take my head off.”
The jury heard Mesic and the police were separated by a fence.
McLellan also said Mesic looked like he was in a trance-like state.
“His eyes...it was really hard to describe it. It looked like he was in a trance.”
Use of force
McLellan fired three shots initially, followed by another two. Another officer, Const. Kevin Farrell, fired four shots.
Six out of the nine bullets hit Mesic's upper torso, the jury heard. It is unclear where each officer's bullets landed.
Both officers told the inquest they did not know Mesic was at his own home at the time. Nor were they aware of his mental health conditions or his previous suicide attempts.
An SIU investigation cleared both officers of wrongdoings.
McLellan defended his choice to use lethal force. He said if he hasn't done exactly what he did, “I wouldn't be here talking.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Farrell continued his testimony from Tuesday. He said his use of force training kicked in during what he described as a critical and dramatic situation. Assessing the person's mental health condition wasn't the priority at the time.
"When someone is attacking me with a shovel, am I supposed to sit there and say 'Are you OK?' or 'Can I help you today?'" he told the inquest.
A year after the incident, Farrell said he still remembers it “like it was yesterday."
During cross examination, Farrell was asked by lawyer Carr Hatch if his memories of the incident have faded since his interview with the SIU three weeks after the incident, Farrell said no.
"It was a life-changing event," Farrell told a packed courtroom. "I remember it like it was yesterday."
Following Farrell's testimony in the morning, Coroner Jack Stanborough questioned if a Taser would make a difference in the outcome of the incident. Farrell said no.
Farrell explained because Mesic was moving toward him, it would be difficult for the stun gun to have an accurate and effective aim. He added that, in an optimal situation, five officers are needed to use a stun gun, with one officer firing the shot and four others grab the limbs of the person to keep the person under control. There were only two officers on scene at the time.
The jury heard that Farrell, like other police recruits, had pepper spray training at Ontario Police College.
But Farrell said that the training showed that pepper spray is 'not a completely disabling tool ... anyone can fight through it."
The jury also heard that McLellan was carrying pepper spray and a baton in addition to his gun, but McLellan said pepper spray was out of the question at the time.
McLellan explained that pepper spray only travels about 12 feet (about 3.5 metres), but Mesic was about 15 feet (about 4.6 metres) away. It was also a breezy day, McLellan said, and he was worried about the spray being blown to Farrell's side.
Use of profanity
The jury also heard that both officers used profanity during the exchange with Mesic. Farrell said “Drop the f------ shovel,” the inquest heard.
“It's human nature that people say stuff they don't normally say,” Farrell explained.
McLellan said he vaguely remembers using the phrase “Are you stupid?” when approaching Mesic.
He said he used the phrase to try to snap Mesic out of the trans-like state.
“There's some type of barrier that words are not getting to him,” he said.
“Sometimes you need to make yourself seem bigger to take control of the situation. It shows you mean business.”
Sharon Dorr, Mesic's fiancée and mother of a now eight-month-old baby boy, declined to comment after Wednesday's session.
The 10-day inquest continues on Thursday.