The Hamilton police sergeant in charge of reviewing use-of-force incidents says he hadn't discussed the February 2012 shooting death of Phonesay Chanthachack with the officers involved until about two weeks ago.
And when he did, it was to brief them on what types of questions they would face in court during a coroner's inquest into the shooting.
Sgt. Jon Alsbergas's comments came Wednesday, during his second day of testimony at the inquest into Chanthachack's death. The 27-year-old was shot and killed during a confrontation with plain-clothes police officers on Feb.13, 2012.
Alsbergas also said officers are not trained to shoot at moving vehicles, the course of action Const. Ryan Tocher took when facing the stolen van Chanthachack was driving.
Alsbergas's comments raise questions about how the police services respond to — and learn from — incidents in which police deploy their use-of-force options, including guns, pepper spray and Tasers.
That Alsbergas didn't speak with the officers, who were on an undercover mission as part of the police's Break and Enter, Auto Theft and Robbery branch, immediately after the shooting was not unexpected. By law, police shootings are investigated first by the provincial Special Investigations Unit (SIU) law. Local authorities can't interview the officers involved until the SIU has completed its investigation.
In this case, the SIU, which is called in whenever police are involved in incidents that result in death, serious injury or sexual assault, completed its investigation in June 2012. The agency cleared Ryan Tocher, the officer who pulled the trigger, of any wrongdoing.
In mid-July, Alsbergas reviewed the Hamilton police report on the incident, but he did not follow up with Tocher or any of the officers involved until recently, he testified on Wednesday.
"I only interviewed them in the last two weeks," he said.
Alsbergas, responding to questions by lawyer Marco Visentini, the lawyer representing police chief Glenn De Caire and the police services board, said the rules surrounding the SIU investigation impedes his ability to review some use-of-force incidents.
"The more information I get and the sooner I get it, the better," Alsbergas said.
Reports inform use-of-force training
Officers are required to file a use of force report any time they draw a gun or use a weapon on a human. Alsbergas said he reviews all of these reports and sometimes, but not usually, follows up with the officers involved.
In addition to reviewing the reports, Alsbergas uses them to help inform the types of scenarios presented in use-of-force training sessions, which officers must take annually.
'We've never trained officers to shoot at a moving vehicle.' —Jon Alsbergas, Hamilton Police Service
Officers, he noted, don't receive use-of-force training on the type of situation that led to shooting in question. Police shot Chanthachack twice while he was driving out of an east-end parking lot in a stolen van.
Tocher, who fired the shots, told the inquest on Friday he was left with no "other options" but to shoot, fearing Chanthachack would run over him with the van.
"We've never trained officers to shoot at a moving vehicle," Alsbergas told the inquest, adding it's a tactic he wouldn't recommend.
The inquest, which is mandated by the provincial Coroners Act, is expected conclude this week. A five-member jury will examine the events surrounding the shooting and may make recommendation on how similar deaths could be prevented.