Use of force training examined at Steve Mesic inquest
Officers trained to respond to behaviour, not consider why
An Ontario Police College instructor testified Monday at the Steve Mesic inquest that there is no predetermined safe distance from a person, "no dangerous line" after which police officers should use lethal force.
John Weiler, a veteran of more than a dozen police shooting inquests, essentially delivered a lecture on how the police use of force model is taught during his morning testimony on Day Seven of the inquest.
In the afternoon, the jury was taken to the site where Mesic was killed, before they were dismissed for the day. The jurors saw the terrain, but were advised by the coroner not to judge today's foliage, but to get a sense of the space along the side of the Mesic home.
Sharon Dorr, Mesic's fianceé, was inside with her eight-month-old son, whom she was pregnant with when Mesic was killed last June. With five jurors and a swath of lawyers near the home, the family dog could be heard barking. While Dorr did say the baby had been woken up with the 2 p.m. field trip by the jurors and lawyers, she declined to comment. She did not leave the front door of the home while the members of the inquest walked the berm of their home, which backs onto the Lincoln Alexander Parkway near Upper Wentworth.
With the excursion, Weiler's testimony was put on hold. On his testimony Tuesday morning, initiated by the coroner's counsel Graeme Leach, Weiler also offered opinions on how the inquest should evaluate the officer's decisions.
He said police officers have to respond to behaviours.
"Why they did it is something we can consider later," Weiler said.
He said the officers should be judged on what they perceived, not what happened, giving weight to "tunnel vision" and "auditory exclusion" both officers testified as having during the confrontation with Mesic outside his mountain home.
The confrontation came shortly after he had walked out of a voluntary psychiatric ward and made two suicide attempts trying to walk in fronto of traffic.
"You may not hear someone yelling at you, you may not hear a gun shot… because they're focused on something else," Weiler said.
"There's no safe line, there's no dangerous line," Weiler continued, indirectly referencing the "line in the sand" constables Farrell and Michael McLellan reported as having as roughly five feet.
"You can't say at five feet that is the limit."
He also added that officers are not trained to grapple with people holding "edged weapons," like the garden shovel officers say Mesic turned on police.
After Weiler's testimony, David Landseman, counsel for the mental health advocate group, the Empowerment Council, tried to link the Mesic Inquest to the JKE Inquest, an inquest into the police shootings of three people in Toronto with known mental health issues.
Landseman said the comparison is fair considering Hamilton Police Const. Kevin Farrell reported Mesic had "dead eyes" earlier in testimony when he was walking up the off-ramp at on the Linc.
The SIU cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing, but the mandatory inquest will examine the events surrounding Mesic's death. The inquest jury may also make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
CBC Hamilton reporter Jeff Green is at the John Sopinka courthouse on Tuesday covering the inquest. Follow his tweets in the live blog below.