The coroner’s inquest into the death of Steve Mesic moved forward on Wednesday without a jury as lawyers argued over the calling of a witness
The session began with Dr. Jack Stanborough, the coroner overseeing the inquest, raising concerns over the scope of the proceedings at the John Sopinka courthouse in downtown Hamilton.
Citing a number of previous inquests, he reminded the lawyers in the courtroom that the primary purpose of the inquest is to look at the specifics of the death in question, he said.
“The central core of any inquest is the means that a person came to his or her death,” he said. Stanborough also chastised the media coverage of the inquest, noting that issues are being discussed with the media outside of the courtroom that should be reserved for the proceedings, he said.
Starting mid-morning, lawyers representing the Empowerment Council, Mesic’s family, the coroner’s council and both officers involved in the shooting debated the relevance of hearing evidence from Jennifer Chambers of the Empowerment Council- an advocacy group on addiction and mental health issues.
Anita Szigeti, a lawyer representing Chambers, said the evidence is important for understanding the victim’s perspective in the inquiry.
“We’ve heard from both officers and what was going through their minds,” she said.
“We don’t know what was going through Mr. Mesic’s because he’s dead.”
The Empowerment council also wanted to look at the “big picture” about police training in dealing with emotionally disturbed people, she said.
Several other lawyers argued against hearing testimony from Chambers, saying it was outside the scope of Mesic’s specific death.
“You have to come back down here to the real world, that’s what the coroner’s inquest is about,” said Gary Clewley, a lawyer representing Kevin Farrell, one of the officers involved in the shooting.
“This is not an avenue for special interest groups to demonstrate that they’re special,” he said.
One of the basic issues about the testimony is its specific relevance to the Mesic case, said Graeme Leach, a lawyer for the coroner.
“We are to focus on the facts of this death, the death of Steven Mesic,” he said. “Does Miss Chambers bring any new material evidence to the facts of Mesic’s death.”
Wednesday marked the eighth day of the inquest, which is scheduled to wrap up on Friday.
So far, the jury at the inquest has heard testimony from both officers involved in the shooting death of Mesic, two of Mesic’s neighbours, the lead SIU investigator from the case, and a senior psychologist from St. Joseph’s Hospital. The jury also visited the site of the shooting on Tuesday.
Mesic was shot and killed by Hamilton police officers just outside the backyard of his home on the Mountain, after approaching officers brandishing a shovel. He suffered from anxiety and depression, and shortly before the shooting left a secure psychiatric floor at St. Joe’s hospital, and was seen trying to walk into traffic.
- Related: Use of force training examined at Steve Mesic inquest
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The SIU cleared the officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing, but the mandatory inquest is examining the chain of events that led up to shots being fired. The jury will be called upon to make recommendation’s on how deaths like Mesic’s can be averted.