Inquest into Michael MacIsaac's shooting death focuses on conflicting accounts

Testimony at an ongoing coroner's inquest into the death of Michael MacIsaac focused Tuesday on conflicting accounts from police and eye witnesses.

Witness testifies that police moved MacIsaac after he had been shot

The spot in the middle of Dring Street where Michael MacIsaac came to rest after being shot twice by a Durham police constable. (Office of the Chief Coroner: Ontario)

Testimony at an ongoing coroner's inquest into the death of Michael MacIsaac focused Tuesday on conflicting accounts from officers and eyewitnesses as to what transpired before and after the 47-year-old was shot by police.

First, there's the metal table leg that police said MacIsaac was wielding as a weapon as he ran naked in the street, when Durham police Const. Brian Taylor fired the two bullets that killed him.

Taylor shot MacIsaac some 12 seconds after arriving at the scene on Dec. 2, 2013. MacIsaac, his family says, was in the midst of an epilepsy-related mental heatlh crisis that led him to behave oddly and erratically.  

The 94-centimetre, 0.45-kilogram piece of curved hollow metal has become a critical piece of evidence in the case. Investigators found it near the pool of blood, in the middle of a suburban Ajax street, that marked where MacIsaac allegedly fell to the ground and stopped moving on that chilly morning. 

One eyewitness to the shooting says she did not notice anything in MacIsaac's hand when police opened fire on him. Further, a clerical error by a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) forensic scientist led to the leg being thrown out prematurely.

Forensic investigator Curtis Napholc testified that police would have been unable to determine the metal leg was hollow and weighed less than a half kilogram before they shot MacIsaac. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Secondly, another witness said she saw police move MacIsaac, who was still alive, after the shots were fired. That raises the prospect, according to the family's lawyer, Roy Wellington, that the officer was not truthful about the distance between himself and MacIsaac when he discharged his weapon. 

The metal leg

SIU investigator Curtis Napholc testified that he was unable to secure any fingerprints from the table leg, and no DNA testing was done before it was mistakenly "disposed of."

It was part of a patio table that MacIsaac is said to have broken on the front door of a neighbourhood home before police arrived at the scene. The other three legs, along with the table top, were found on the doorstep of that house. 

The inquest heard opposing accounts from witnesses about the piece of metal. Rodena Johnston was driving her daughter to school when they came across MacIsaac running naked on the road. She witnessed the shots when they were fired.

Multiple witnesses said Wednesday that MacIsaac was holding the hollow metal table leg in a threatening manner as he approached police. ((Office of the Chief Coroner: Ontario))

"I didn't see anything in his hands," she told the inquest, admitting however that the incident was so traumatic for her that she would end up spending five days in hospital with acute PTSD.

"It was so quick — bang, bang," she continued. "I just saw him, heard the bang, bang, and he disappeared. Police moved towards him, and then I couldn't see."

Johnston added that, because her window was open, she was able to hear a male police officer tell a colleague that he needed to change his boots because they had blood on them. 

"They went right to the cruiser and got in," she said. 

Part of Johnston's account, however, was contradicted by that of Kristen Bennett, another eyewitness.

Bennett was on her way to work in Ajax when she saw MacIsaac running through the neighbourhood. She had a blanket in her back seat and wanted to help him, she said. 

Kristen Bennett said she witnessed police move MacIsaac, who was still alive at the time, to the middle of the street after he had been shot. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

She continued that MacIsaac was holding the table leg like a baseball bat when police shot him and that she saw police take the piece of metal from his hands while MacIsaac was on the ground. 

The SIU forensic scientist, Napholc, testified that it would have been impossible to tell from a distance that the metal leg was relatively light and hollow.

The blood evidence

Napholc also testified that he only found blood in one place: the large stain on the road. The family's lawyer told CBC Toronto that he believes the sleet falling that morning may have washed away blood evidence in other spots.

Napholc acknowledged it's possible that precipitation can dilute blood and ultimately obscure it from investigators. 

That admission — along with Bennett's testimony that police physically moved MacIsaac into the middle of the street after he had been shot — suggests he was farther away from police at the moment of the shooting than the officer originally stated, Wellington asserts.

Michael MacIsaac and his wife, Marianne Madjarian, on their wedding day in 2008. (Supplied by MacIsaac family)

Napholc said because there's no blood trail, he can't tell either way. 

"The only exhibit that will show me where a person was is the blood staining in the ground, so where Mr. MacIsaac was coming to rest. Where he was prior to that, I have no idea."

Testimony is slated to continue tomorrow. Const. Taylor is expected to testify later in the week. 

With files from Shannon Martin