Officer who fatally shot Michael MacIsaac testifies he thought his own life was at risk

The Durham police officer who fatally shot a naked man in mental distress told a coroner's inquest Thursday that he believed at the time that if he didn't fire his gun he might die himself.

Const. Brian Taylor fatally shot MacIsaac on Dec. 2, 2013, while MacIsaac was in mental distress

Const. Brian Taylor, left, testified before a coroner's inquest about the moments leading up to his decision to shoot Michael MacIsaac on Dec. 2, 2013. MacIsaac died from his injuries. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The Durham police officer who fatally shot a naked man in mental distress told a coroner's inquest Thursday that he believed at the time that if he didn't fire his gun he might die himself.

Const. Brian Taylor, 46, spoke about the moments leading up to Michael MacIsaac's death publicly for the first time. He is one of 18 witnesses to speak before the five-person jury. Several of the witnesses have offered different accounts about what happened on Dec. 2, 2013.

Taylor's testimony matches the official version released by the Special Investigations Unit, the police watchdog that cleared him of criminal wrongdoing alongside the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

Taylor alleges that MacIsaac threatened him with a metal table leg. ((Office of the Chief Coroner: Ontario))

The 18-year police veteran testified that MacIsaac rushed at him while holding a metal table leg — and he said he worried about his own safety and that of one of the other witnesses. 

That weapon, however, has become a point of contention throughout the inquest. Some witnesses have testified that MacIsaac was gripping a 94-centimetre patio table leg when he faced Taylor, while others have said they're unsure he was still holding the piece of metal. 

A state of mental distress

Taylor told the jury that he would not normally have even responded to the call in the Ajax suburb, because it wasn't in his district. But he was at his station when he heard a 911 call about a man fleeing into the street after assaulting two women and decided to respond. 

It's unclear, however, if MacIsaac's mental state was made clear over the police radio. Taylor testified that there was a technical issue with some of his radio equipment and he didn't receive every dispatch, but he said that when he saw MacIsaac it was obvious that he was in distress. 

Both MacIsaac's wife and his sister have said that MacIsaac had epilepsy and would suffer bouts of profound confusion.

Michael and Marianne MacIsaac on their wedding day. (Supplied by MacIsaac family)

Although Taylor did not have a police partner, there were two other officers at the scene. Taylor testified that he only spotted MacIsaac after several minutes, when he spoke with a man in a pick-up truck who had been following him. 

That's when Taylor says he saw a "flash of movement" behind the cruiser and a man holding a piece of bent metal. 

Taylor testified that MacIsaac was holding a metal rod "like a baseball bat" and said, "Come on, come on."

Within seconds, Taylor shot him. 

Use of force

The intervening seconds became the focal point of questioning for both the coroner's counsel and the lawyer representing the MacIsaac family. They asked whether the veteran officer warned the man that he planned to shoot, how loudly he issued the warning and whether he considered any other ways to de-escalate the situation.

Taylor testified that he and another officer told MacIsaac not to move, but instead of doing so the man tried to close the four-metre gap between them.

When asked what he was thinking in that moment, Taylor replied: "I'm going to have a metal bar driven through my head. If he moves, I'm going to have that driven right through my head, and if I shoot, don't miss."

He shot MacIsaac twice, saying that "there was no effect" the first time.

Joanne MacIsaac, Michael's sister, said her family will continue to push for more information about what happened. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

MacIsaac's sister, Joanne, told reporters outside the court that she still questions Taylor's version of events.

She said she especially doesn't understand why he felt the need to fire a second round at her brother — or why he got out of his car.

"You have ripped our family apart," she said. "Not only by the loss of Michael, but by the fact that we are in a position that we had to spend so much time fighting to get the truth."

The family has said they had limited access to information from the SIU investigation into MacIsaac's death.

Taylor will continue his testimony Friday morning.

With files from Chris Glover