British Columbia

Coroner's inquest jury classifies Myles Gray's death as homicide

The jury at a coroner's inquest into the death of Myles Gray has classified his death as a homicide, becoming the first official body to designate his death as such since he was beaten by police nearly eight years ago.

Jury recommends Vancouver police fit all of its patrol officers with body cameras

A man with wavy blonde hair wears a dark checkered shirt and smiles for a photo.
Myles Gray is pictured in an undated photo. Gray, 33, died after a violent confrontation with police officers in a Burnaby, B.C., backyard on Aug. 13, 2015. (Justice for Myles Gray/Facebook)

The jury at a coroner's inquest into the death of Myles Gray has classified his death as a homicide, becoming one of the first official bodies to designate his death as such since he was beaten by multiple Vancouver police officers nearly eight years ago.

The jurors returned their verdict Monday after hearing testimony on Gray's death from more than 40 witnesses over the course of the inquiry, including the police officers involved in the struggle, firefighters, paramedics, independent investigators, use-of-force trainers, a toxicologist and a forensic pathologist.

Four out of the five jurors were in favour of the decision after six hours of deliberation.

"I think it is the best possible outcome for an inquest," said Margie Gray, Myles Gray's mother.

"I'm just really relieved this whole process is over," she added. "It's been a long seven-and-a-half years and definitely a long two weeks, and today was very stressful, very anxiety provoking."

Gray, 33, died after the struggle with police in a shrouded backyard in Burnaby, B.C., in August 2015. His injuries included ruptured testicles, a broken voice box, a fractured eye socket and widespread bruising. The family has long called for stronger condemnation of the officers involved in his death, who remain with the force and did not face criminal charges.

Coroner's inquests in B.C. do not make findings of legal responsibility, but jurors were tasked with classifying Gray's death and making recommendations to prevent similar fatalities.

Ian Donaldson, a lawyer for Gray's family, said the homicide finding is significant because the police position had always been that Gray died of natural causes.

Several officers told the inquest they believed Gray had been experiencing "excited delirium,'' characterizing it as a life-threatening medical emergency.

"From my perspective, the jury's verdict puts an end to that. We know what the cause of death was,'' Donaldson told reporters after the inquest concluded. "We heard it from the forensic pathologist, and the jury endorsed and accepted that.''

One of the jury's three recommendations called on the Vancouver Police Department to implement the use of body cameras with audio-recording capability for all patrol officers in the city, while the second called for a review of the department's de-escalation and crisis containment training.

In particular, jurors said police need to review how officers engage with people who might be experiencing a mental health crisis.

The department confirmed Monday it had seen the recommendations.

"We appreciate the work done by the coroner's jury and by everyone who participated in the inquest. We will take some time to review the recommendations before speaking further," read an email to CBC.

Before the jury returned with its verdict on Monday, the inquest heard from Shelley Horne, the Vancouver police superintendent overseeing personnel services. Horne said she expects there will be a pilot project by this fall to equip 80 to 100 front-line officers with body cameras for up to nine months before the results are evaluated.

Jury heard testimony from 42 witnesses

Witness testimony over the two-week inquest covered the moments police were dispatched to the area to Gray's death and through years of subsequent investigations.

Two people initially called 911 the afternoon Gray died to report a man had yelled at a woman watering plants outside her co-op on Marine Drive and sprayed her with a garden hose.

One officer said he tried to talk to Gray after responding alone but retreated and called for backup after he taunted her and grabbed the window or driver's side door of her police van.

Two officers who responded to her call told the jury they briefly tried speaking with Gray after following him east into Burnaby but used pepper spray when he did not kneel as asked.

More officers continued to arrive as the fight escalated inside the backyard on Joffre Avenue.

Fourteen officers used the same language on the stand to describe Gray's appearance and behaviour — they said he was "animalistic," "aggressive," or showing "superhuman strength." One officer told the jury he feared for his life, while another said he thought the only alternative to gain control would've been to shoot Gray.

Several said they believed Gray was experiencing "excited delirium," a contentious term describing a state of agitation and often cited in police-involved deaths and later rejected by the coroner who performed Gray's autopsy.

Police said they increased their use of force on Gray because he did not appear to feel any pain as officers hit his legs and arms with their batons, kneed his torso, squeezed his neck twice and punched his face repeatedly. 

Officers told the inquest they could not remember seeing any blood or bruising on Gray. Paramedics and firefighters contradicted that evidence, with one of the former saying Gray's discoloured body looked as though it had been in "battle."

Within an hour, Gray was dead.

A woman with long curled hair walks into an office building.
Myles Gray's mother, Margie Gray, left, is pictured outside of the B.C. coroner's offices prior to a public inquest into Gray’s death in Burnaby, B.C., on April 17. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Recommendation targets sample preservation

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy in 2015 initially ruled his cause of death as "undetermined," saying any number of factors like suffocation, "agitation, in keeping with instances of excited delirium," pressure on the neck and an enlarged heart could have been fatal.

But Dr. Matthew Orde adjusted his findings after hearing evidence from police, first responders and the toxicologist during the inquest. Instead, Orde said Gray died "as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest" that was complicated by officers' use of force, putting extra stress on his heart and lungs.

He specifically noted police actions, including "neck compression,'' blunt force injuries, the use of pepper spray and holding Gray on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Orde ruled out the enlarged heart as a potential cause of death, telling jurors it was larger than normal but not fatally so. He also said Gray's use of non-prescribed testosterone, noted earlier by his family doctor, wasn't likely to have contributed to his death.

Orde told jurors he believed Gray's demeanour was likely the result of an "acute behavioural episode" but that he did not think Gray would have died that summer afternoon had it not been for the actions of police.

Gray's sister, Melissa Gray, told the inquest her brother was a "goofy," loyal person who, to her knowledge, was stable after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder around 1999. Now a psychiatric nurse, Gray said her brother might have been experiencing a manic episode the day he died and would have needed better de-escalation tactics.

The Crown announced in 2020 that prosecutors would not be pursuing any criminal charges against police involved in the struggle with Gray, noting inconsistent evidence around an incident to which the officers involved were the only witnesses.

Donaldson said the evidence presented at the inquest is different than what the pathologist had to work with in 2015, and the information the prosecution service had in 2020.

"I think there's a good argument that it should be looked at again,'' he said.

Five police officers told the inquest they did not immediately take handwritten notes after Gray died at the direction of their union representatives. 

At the time, Crown said a natural stimulant called mitragynine, or kratom, could have caused his death based on original post-mortem blood tests. During his testimony last week, toxicologist Aaron Shapiro said he changed that report after examining the results and finding the drug levels were too low to be confirmed or were potentially a false positive.

The jury's third recommendation on Monday called on the Provincial Health Services Authority to review its policy around preserving toxicology samples and consider retaining the evidence until all investigations are complete.

A toxicologist told the inquest that samples of Gray's blood were destroyed long before the inquest in line with standard practice.

Shapiro also said the team of the day never did secondary testing to confirm a potential result for THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis — though he said it likely wouldn't have caused the behaviour police described. 


Rhianna Schmunk

Senior Writer

Rhianna Schmunk is a senior writer for CBC News based in Vancouver. Over nearly a decade, she has reported on subjects including criminal justice, civil litigation, natural disasters and climate change. You can send story tips to

With files from The Canadian Press