Officers need to identify themselves, Hamilton inquest jury says

Jury: Educate officers more on when to draw their firearms. Ensure that they identify themselves as police when they arrest people during traffic stops. Encourage officers involved in traumatic incidents to get the right support.

Chanthachack family says jury recommendations help bring closure

Natasha Thompson has two children with Phonesay Chanthachack. She says the jury recommendations following an inquest into Chanthachack's shooting death bring some closure. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Educate officers more on when to draw their firearms. Ensure that they identify themselves as police when they arrest people. Encourage officers involved in traumatic incidents to get the right support.

Those are just three of the recommendations a jury issued Thursday following an inquest into the shooting death of Hamilton resident Phonesay Chanthachack.

Chanthachack was 27 on a frigid day in February 2012 when he tried to leave a driveway in a stolen van at 15 Albright Rd. Const. Ryan Tocher, in the path of the van, stopped him by shooting him twice — once in the arm and once in the back, possibly as Chanthachack crouched over the steering wheel.

Chanthachack drove the van down the street and crashed into a pole. Much of the incident took place across from a high school.

The five-member jury listened to nine days of testimony. Tocher took the stand, as did his three fellow plainclothes officers on the scene that day. The jury also heard from two witnesses and numerous forensic and training experts.

Recommendations will impact law enforcement

The recommendations are designed to prevent similar deaths in the future, and will impact policing in Ontario, said Bob Munroe, lawyer for the Chanthachack family, during closing summations Thursday.

"The recommendations you make, we're confident will make an impact in the future," Munroe said. "What you're about to do is very important."

The jury recommends that Chanthachack's case be used to train other members of the Hamilton Police Service on subjects such as blocking vehicles, the risks of using a firearm and the importance of plainclothes officers identifying themselves when arresting people.

The jury also recommends officers prominently identify themselves as police when they apprehend a suspect, and that unmarked vehicles have signals, lights and tinted windows.

Boonphone Chanthachack, Phonesay's older brother, said the recommendations help the family find closure.

Helps to know the truth

"It takes a load off my back" to have recommendations preventing future deaths, he said, and "to know a little bit more of the truth."

With the inquest complete, Natasha Thompson, the mother of Phonesay Chanthachack's two children, said she can begin to heal.

"I will be able to sleep better knowing there was a little bit of justice here, that something good came out of it," she said. "If nothing came out of it, I think it would be difficult to even move on and let this go."

It's closure for Tocher too, said lawyer Gary Clewley, who represented the four officers in the case.

"He wants to get on with his career," Clewley said. "His career has been on hold because you never know what's going to happen at an inquest."

'One of them had to give'

Several hours of inquest testimony revolved around whether Chanthachack, who faced 18 theft-related charges and had skipped court that morning, knew Tocher was a police officer.  It's reasonable to assume he did, Clewley said.

"I know it happened very quickly, but you know and I know that he was focused on getting out," he said. "Tocher was focused on staying alive, and one of them had to give."

Regional coroner Jack Stanborough presided over the inquest, which is mandatory under the Coroners Act.

Tocher 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.

The Special Investigations Unit investigated and cleared him of wrongdoing in the Chanthachack shooting.