'We don't understand why this happened' says family of man who died in police shooting

The sister of 32-year-old Jeremy Stephens, who died Sunday in a police shooting in Summerside, is speaking out.

'We're all questioning it — why such use of force?'

Jeremy Stephens's sister Jannett Jones has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral. (GoFundMe)

The sister of 32-year-old Jeremy Stephens, who died Sunday in a police shooting in Summerside, is speaking out.

His sister Jannett Jones spoke Monday morning with CBC News.  

"He's loving and caring and beautiful, and he's gone," Jones said, sobbing. 

Stephens died at the Prince County Hospital Sunday afternoon after an altercation with police early that morning as they tried to arrest him.

Police got a 911 call early Sunday morning about four men who had broken into a motel room on Water Street in Summerside. Police found the suspects' vehicle outside a home on Duke Street and began watching it. Shortly after 5 a.m. two of the suspects left the house. Police arrested one, but the other fled inside. That man became violent and resisted arrest, police said, and two officers fired their guns, injuring Stephens. The victim was taken to hospital for treatment, but died at about 1 p.m. Sunday.

Jannett Jones and her family have many questions about how her brother died after he was shot by police. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Jones said doctors told the family Stephens had been shot six times — twice in the chest, twice in the leg, once in the arm and once in the hand.

The police watchdog SIRT, or Serious Incident Response Team, has been called in by Summerside police to investigate the incident. 

In a news release Monday, Summerside police said they had first arrested 26-year-old Congjie Tan of Summerside, who appeared in court Sunday to face charges of robbery and remanded into custody. Late Sunday afternoon they arrested Aaron Christopher Prichard, 34, who appeared in court Monday to answer to charges including robbery, assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose. Prichard was also remanded into custody. 

Police are still actively searching for the fourth and final suspect involved in this incident, the release said. 

'We were really angry'

Jones received a call from her aunt about 7 a.m. Sunday telling her Stephens had been shot and was in surgery.

Jones said police explained to her that the closest paramedics were too far away to get to the hospital quickly, so police decided to take the victim to hospital in a police cruiser.

The house on Duke Street in Summerside where the shooting occurred. (John Robertson/CBC)

At first the family believed police had found Stephens and taken him to hospital — they didn't realize police were involved. Stephens lived at the Duke Street residence where the shooting occurred, Jones said. 

The family found out at the hospital that police had fired the shots, Jones said. 

"We were really angry at first — we still are," said Jones. She is upset police won't give many details about what happened, because they have to wait for the SIRT team's approval, Jones said she was told. 

"We're all questioning it — why such use of force?" Jones asked. "We have no idea as to whether or not he had a weapon. They keep saying he was resisting with violence — we're not clear as to what that meant.

"Jeremy's not a violent person. He's a nuisance, yes, but he's not a violent person," Jones said. "We don't understand why this happened  ... could he not have been tasered or pepper-sprayed?

"Why did he have to be shot six times?"

'Wasn't a saint'

Jones said Stephens had addictions problems for years. 

"Jeremy wasn't a saint. He may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and may have been involved in things he shouldn't have been, but this should never have happened to him — he didn't deserve this," she said. 

Stephens is the youngest of four children. He has two sisters and a brother, Jones said. She has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for a funeral for Stephens. 

Stephens's body was taken to Halifax for an autopsy, said Jones. Family said they were told the body was to be transferred to a P.E.I. funeral home Monday. 

"I hope that the truth comes out," said Jones of the SIRT investigation. "It's just so unfortunate that it came to this." 

Second-ever fatality for SIRT

"Given that this incident involved the discharge of a firearm and the death of a person, we have been asked to oversee the investigation, to actually conduct the investigation so it appears and is impartial," SIRT's director Felix Cacchione told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin Monday afternoon.

SIRT doesn't know yet whether Stephens was armed or with what, SIRT director Felix Cacchione says. (CBC)

While the investigation is led by Staff Sgt. Kevin Smith of Halifax Regional Police who has been seconded to SIRT, Cacchione said it will be carried out by P.E.I. RCMP's forensic identification unit and major crimes unit.

The Summerside incident is only the second-ever fatality SIRT has investigated in its six-year existence, said Cacchione. The first happened on Saturday in Westphal, N.S.

Cacchione had not yet seen the results of the autopsy and could not confirm the number of gunshots although he said he knew it "was more than one." 

SIRT doesn't know yet whether Stephens was armed or with what, Cacchione said. The investigation is in its infancy, he said, and SIRT has yet to receive search warrants for the Duke St. property to gather evidence or speak with the officers involved. 

More P.E.I. news 

With files from Laura Meader