Eyewitnesses testify at inquest into fatal police shooting

The inquest into the death of Matthew Dumas heard on Tuesday from witnesses who gave different reports of what happened in the moments before police shot the Winnipeg teenager.

Witnesses at the inquest into the death of Matthew Dumas gave different reports Tuesday of what happened in the moments before police shot the Winnipeg teenager.

Stuart Hourie lived on Dufferin Avenue and was on his way to a local walk-in clinic on Jan. 31, 2005, when he was startled by a police officer running toward and past him, he testified.

Hourie then saw a man he later learned was Dumas approaching from the other direction, pursued by other police officers.

Hourie said he heard officers tell Dumas to "halt" or "freeze," and said the teen was ordered three times to "drop his weapon."  Police later said Dumas, 18, had been carrying a screwdriver.  

The officer in front of Hourie started to back up as Dumas kept approaching him. Hourie described Dumas as "lunging" at the officer.

The officer used pepper spray twice on Dumas — and then the teen's right hand rose, carrying the screwdriver, Hourie said.

Hourie heard two shots fired in quick succession, he testified.

Dumas fell down, and several officers piled on top of his back, handcuffing his hands behind his back, he said.

Never saw weapon in Dumas's hand: witness

A very different view of the shooting came from North End businessman Israel Kleiman, who testified he was on the phone in his Dufferin Avenue business when he saw the confrontation unfold outside his window.

Kleiman said he saw three people walking in a row on the other side of the street: two officers and one young man — Dumas — in the middle. The officer in front of the man was walking backwards, he said.

The snowbanks on the sidewalk that day were very high, and the young man must have had his hands down as he walked, Kleiman said, because he was never able to see them over the top of the snowbank.

He did see, though, what he thought were Taser stun guns in the hands of the two officers, Kleiman testified.

He heard one shot, and Dumas disappeared from view below the snowbank, he said.

He was adamant that Dumas did not lunge at the officers at any time. He did not see pepper spray used on Dumas, Kleiman said, and he didn't see a weapon in Dumas's hands because he never saw his hands at all over the top of the snowbank.

Kleiman said the three people were so close together he doesn't understand why the officers didn't tackle the young man.

"Maybe they should hire a couple of the Blue Bombers to work for them so that they would be able to take somebody down … a tackle, a jump on the guy's back, anything," he told the media after giving his testimony on Tuesday.

"They were certainly close enough. They were able to reach him, and they should have been able to stop him without  killing him."

Dumas's family members in the gallery at the inquest looked emotional as some of this testimony was being heard, and at one point, his brother was holding his head in his hands.

Believed to be robbery suspect

Witnesses at the inquest's first day of proceedings on Monday offered glimpses into why police appear to have viewed Dumas as a suspect in a robbery several hours before he was killed.

Police had been looking for suspects in a home invasion in the East Kildonan area of the city; the victim in that incident told the inquest his assailants threatened to shoot him, although he did not himself see a gun.

The robbery victim saw his assailants leave in a cab, whose driver testified that he dropped them off in the North End neighbourhood.

Around that time, Dumas was with a group of people in the area, and he ran off when approached by police, sparking a chase.

Witness Roderick Pelletier testified that a teenager he later learned was Dumas came to the back door of his home, out of breath and shaking, and asked for a lighter for a cigarette.

A police officer caught up with Dumas and took him away. Pelletier watched as the two scuffled, and saw Dumas break away, he said.

A few moments later, Pelletier heard two shots, although he said he did not actually see the moment Dumas was shot by police. He said he didn't leave the house because he is "scared" of police.

"I was shot by police a while back … when I was drinking a lot," he said.

After the shooting, Pelletier said, police officers told him not to talk to the media about what he had seen.

At that point in the inquest proceedings, the lawyer representing the City of Winnipeg — who had earlier complained that she could not hear the testimony by the soft-spoken Pelletier — asked him to repeat what he had said.

Some members of Dumas's extended family said aloud that they could hear Pelletier perfectly.  

Provincial court Judge Mary Curtis scolded them  saying there would be no comments from people in the gallery.  

The inquest, which is mandatory in Manitoba whenever there is a police shooting, is scheduled to last two weeks. Dennis Gburek, the Winnipeg police officer who fired the shot that killed Dumas, is expected to testify Friday.

An internal review of the shooting cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

A review by Calgary police concluded the internal investigation of the shooting was open, transparent and thorough, and a later review by the Ontario Crown attorney's office confirmed the Calgary findings.

With files from the Canadian Press