Calgary officer who fatally shot Anthony Heffernan won't be charged
Probe finds evidence of officer wrongdoing in 2015 incident, but Crown says not enough for conviction
The family of a syringe-wielding Calgary man shot dead by police in 2015 believed strongly the officer involved could face a rare murder charge, but was devastated to learn Monday the Crown had decided there is not enough evidence to pursue the matter any further.
"We are extremely disappointed," said Grant Heffernan, brother of Anthony Heffernan, moments after the province's police watchdog announced the results of its investigation.
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Anthony Heffernan, who was 27 and a recovering drug addict, was shot four times — including three shots to the head and neck — after police responded to the Super 8 motel on Barlow Trail on March 16, 2015, after receiving reports that a man was behaving strangely.
Police described him as agitated and in "medical distress," and said they were confronted with a "high-risk situation" once inside.
According to an account of events from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates police actions in the province, officers could see Heffernan through the partially opened door and described him as "flushed, non-responsive and hyperventilating."
Incident lasted 72 seconds
ASIRT said officers decided to break into the room in part because they believed Heffernan might be in a drug-induced state and a previous, similar encounter with Heffernan had required use of force.
Once inside, officers noted Heffernan was standing near the beds with a lighter and a syringe and did not obey commands to drop them, according to ASIRT. Family noted the "small diabetic needle" had no tip on it.
Officers Tasered Heffernan, but it seemed to have no effect and he began pulling at the wires.
Heffernan then either moved toward or lunged at officers, according to ASIRT, when the officer at the centre of investigation fired his weapon.
The whole incident lasted 72 seconds.
But Heffernan's family believes he wasn't posing a threat to anyone and officers didn't need to go into his room.
Autopsy shows cocaine use
Tests showed significant levels of cocaine in his system, according to autopsy results.
On Aug. 12, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service provided its final opinion to ASIRT that "there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction and the recommendation was that no charges be laid against the subject officer."
Heffernan's mother, Irene, said she had hoped "clear and just thinking would prevail, but it didn't."
Pat Heffernan says his son's needless death shows people are at risk when they come into contact with police.
"It's a sad day for all Albertans and Canadians alike," he said Monday.
"There is no justice in this case. Anthony is dead, and anyone else who comes into contact with police is at tremendous risk ... because they [officers] are going to be supporting each other in whatever needs to be said."
Difficult case, says ASIRT
ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson described the case as "one of the most difficult" she has seen in her two years at the helm of the province's police watchdog organization.
Anthony Heffernan's sister Natalie wears shirt made for a rally back when family was pushing for CPS accountability <a href="https://t.co/30E3ReVnzd">pic.twitter.com/30E3ReVnzd</a>—@CBCMeg
While ASIRT found some evidence to suggest an offence had been committed, Hughson — a former Crown prosecutor, herself — said she found no error of law in the Crown's opinion that there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction.
"We couldn't disprove that the use of force was reasonable," said Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.
Hughson said the matter will still be the subject of a provincial fatality inquiry, which she expects will lead to recommendations in the way police officers handle similar situations in the future.
Chief 'hugely concerned' but still backs officer
Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin said he is "hugely concerned" by the incident, but stands by the officer who pulled the trigger.
That officer, who CBC News learned was also involved in a fatal shooting in February 2016, is now on administrative duties, the chief said.
"He was properly assigned originally and he remains properly assigned now as we work through his own, particular issues," Chaffin said.
The chief also said the incident will lead to changes in the way the Calgary Police Service trains its officers and he will continue to work with the Heffernan family.
"The family lost a son. I completely empathize with their grief and the level of concern they have for this," he said.
"It's my responsibility to make sure we move forward … and we do better."
Crown weighs in
In a lengthy written statement detailing its decision, the Crown said the officer who shot Heffernan "made a quick decision in a volatile and rapidly unfolding situation."
"The evidence would be that he did so as a defensive action against an individual who was armed with a syringe, and who had been either unwilling or unable to comply with police directions," the statement reads.
"In all of these circumstances, it could not be disproven that the subject officer acted upon a reasonable belief that he and the other officers were at risk of serious or grievous bodily harm, and that his use of force was necessary."
With files from The Canadian Press