4 police officers involved in death of Myles Gray faced other brutality allegations, family learns
All were investigated for an arrest 6 weeks before Gray's 2015 death; one charged with assault in 2017 arrest
Four of the Vancouver police officers involved in the death of Myles Gray in 2015 were already under investigation because of an incident that left a man with a broken jaw just six weeks earlier, CBC News has learned.
In addition, one of the four officers is now awaiting a criminal trial for assault related to another arrest that seriously injured a cyclist in 2017.
Though Gray was killed more than seven years ago, his family only recently learned the names of all nine officers who were on the scene when he died.
His mother, Margie Gray, was furious when she learned about the officers' histories.
"They know the common denominators are out there, these violence-prone police, and yet they do nothing," she told CBC News.
"If these cops [had been] dealt with properly at the time, my son may well be alive."
B.C.'s police oversight agency forwarded a report to Crown in the case of Myles Gray in the belief the officers may have committed a crime — but in the case of the broken jaw, all four officers were cleared of wrongdoing.
Myles Gray was unarmed when he died in a Burnaby, B.C., backyard on Aug. 13, 2015. Gray, 33, was making a delivery for his Sechelt-based florist business when police were called after he confronted a South Vancouver homeowner for watering her lawn during that summer's extended drought.
Officers restrained Gray's arms and legs, punched, kicked and kneed him, pepper-sprayed him and struck him with a baton, according to a report from the B.C. Prosecution Service.
His list of injuries — including a fractured voice box, several broken bones and a ruptured testicle — was so extensive that forensic experts have never been able to pinpoint a cause of death.
No one except for the police saw what happened that day. In December 2020, the Crown announced that none of the officers would be criminally charged, in part because of the lack of witnesses.
'I just had this gut feeling'
Those officers' connections to other incidents have come to light due to the advocacy of another mom, Carol DeBoer, who took action after she learned about Gray's death.
"I just had this gut feeling about the situation, and that's when I reached out to Margie, thinking there's something wrong here," DeBoer said.
Her son Mitchell had been arrested in his apartment on June 28, 2015, for violating a no-contact order related to domestic violence.
According to a report from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), B.C.'s police oversight agency, his jaw was broken along with a finger, and his arm was punctured by a police dog.
The IIO ultimately cleared the officers of using excessive force. A lawsuit alleging brutality in the arrest was settled out of court.
During the first conversation between the two mothers, DeBoer listed off the names of the five officers who'd arrested her son. CBC has confirmed the names through documents connected to the family's lawsuit.
Margie Gray finally had a chance to cross-check the names earlier this year using a progress report from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC), which is still overseeing an investigation into the officers involved in her son's death.
Four names were on both lists: constables Beau Spencer, Derek Cain, Josh Wong and Christopher Bowater.
Spencer has also been charged with assault related to a 2017 arrest of a man riding a bike without a helmet or lights.
Few details have been released, but the IIO says the cyclist sustained "serious injuries."
Ralph Kaisers, president of the Vancouver Police Union, said it would be inappropriate for him or any of the officers to comment while the Myles Gray case is still under investigation.
Officers cleared of wrongdoing in June 2015 arrest
DeBoer said she was disgusted to learn of the connections.
"They should not be on the job," she said.
Her son wasn't surprised.
"The way that they treated me, there's just no way that you're going to do something like that once and not do it again," Mitchell DeBoer said.
Unlike in the death of Myles Gray, the IIO did not ask Crown to consider charges in connection with DeBoer's arrest, saying he "resisted [the officers'] attempts to arrest him at every turn."
But Mitchell DeBoer said he can't understand how police could justify unleashing a dog on an unarmed man in a confined space — he was found hiding in a closet.
"I do have a little bit of a history with the police, but that doesn't mean that I deserve what I got," he said.
His lawsuit against the officers alleged "assault, battery, false arrest and false imprisonment." The city's response to that claim on behalf of the officers denied any wrongdoing, and said the force used by the officers was "intentional and justified."
The lawsuit was settled on undisclosed terms.
The exact details of each officer's involvement in these incidents are unclear.
Wong, Spencer and Cain also received commendations this year for their response to a 2016 hostage-taking outside a Canadian Tire that ended with police shooting and killing armed suspect Peter Rintoul.
Court documents suggest Cain and Spencer were witnesses to the fatal shooting, but Wong's role is unknown. The IIO investigated that incident as well, and cleared the officers of wrongdoing, saying Rintoul "posed a threat of deadly force to members of the public."
'Somewhat unusual' to see same officers in multiple cases
Ron MacDonald, the IIO's chief civilian director, said he sometimes sees the names of police officers popping up in multiple investigations of incidents causing death or serious injury, but it's usually dog handlers or officers assigned to emergency response units.
"The officers discussed in each of those reports weren't involved in those specialized units," he said.
Although a police dog was deployed against Mitchell DeBoer, the dog handler was the only one who wasn't also on the scene when Myles Gray died.
"In general, it would be somewhat unusual in a relatively short period of time to see a normal, regular frontline officer come up in a series of cases," MacDonald said.
In instances like this, MacDonald said, the IIO would generally bring the circumstances to the attention of the commanding officers of the police department involved in case they want to take action.
Vancouver Police Department representatives declined an interview for this story, but spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison pointed out in an email that the IIO and the OPCC both investigated the arrest of Mitchell DeBoer.
"These investigations found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers who responded to this incident," Addison said.
Asked about Const. Beau Spencer's current criminal charge, Addison wrote, "as that matter is before the courts, there has been no finding of wrongdoing in that case either."
He said it would not be appropriate to comment on Myles Gray's death while the OPCC investigation is still underway and a coroner's inquest is expected.
'Sometimes police lose their temper'
Margie Gray's lawyer, Ian Donaldson, said it's difficult to draw any conclusions about the officers — and that's a problem.
"It's obviously concerning, and one would think it would bear a closer look by someone who has the facts. And one of our disadvantages is that we're missing many, many, many of the facts," he said.
Donaldson said he doesn't immediately assume that police have done something wrong when someone is injured in an arrest, and that sometimes people will get hurt when they resist police acting lawfully.
"But experienced lawyers familiar with the criminal courts are familiar with the view that police officers, in defending themselves against charges of … beating someone up on arrest, will claim that this person resisted arrest," he said.
"The fact is that sometimes police lose their temper and beat the daylights out of somebody where they shouldn't."
After investigating Myles Gray's death, the IIO forwarded a report to Crown because, as MacDonald maintains, "I thought there were reasonable grounds to believe an offence may have been committed."
Once the Crown declined to bring charges, the OPCC restarted the investigation into whether the officers violated the Police Act.
Nearly two years later, that process is still underway. But deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler told CBC in an email dated Oct. 11, "we anticipate that the investigation is nearing the end."
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Margie Gray said the long wait for answers in her son's death has left her with little hope for any accountability, but learning about the histories of the officers involved has raised a lot of questions.
"This shouldn't have happened in the first place. Where is the training? Where is the mental health ridealong?" she said.
"Maybe he was having a vulnerable moment, but you don't kill people who have vulnerable moments."
With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge