Anthony Heffernan's family to sue after Calgary police officer cleared in fatal shooting

Anthony Heffernan’s family is planning to launch a civil suit after the Calgary police officer who killed him last year was cleared by the province’s police watchdog in a report released Monday.

'We've been devastated for the last 17 months … It's such a needless act'

Anthony Heffernan's family devastated after ASIRT probe

CBC News Calgary

5 years ago
A family was left reeling today after a "shocking" decision not to prosecute the officer who killed a 27-year-old recovering addict. 0:55

The family of a man shot dead in a Super 8 motel room in 2015 plans to sue in a bid to get more answers after the Calgary police officer who killed him was cleared by the province's police watchdog in a report released Monday.

Anthony Heffernan, who was high on cocaine and holding a syringe and lighter, 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, upon initially receiving reports that a man was behaving strangely.

The review by Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) — the organization that investigates police — said that although "there is evidence capable of providing reasonable grounds to believe that an offence or offences have been committed, the Crown opinion has determined that the case does not meet the standard for prosecution."

But Heffernan's family called the decision not to prosecute "shocking."

"Anthony is dead," his father, Pat Heffernan, reminded reporters Monday afternoon. "There is no justice in this case."

Anthony's father Pat Heffernan said 'There is no justice in this case,' after the officer who killed his son was cleared Monday. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The Heffernan family's lawyer, Tom Engel, says the officer involved in the shooting exercised his right to remain silent during the ASIRT investigation and refused to give the police watchdog his notes.

The family hopes that by launching a civil suit against CPS and the officers who were in the motel room, they can force him to testify and hand over the notes.

"It just seemed that, with all those police officers in the room with all that fire power ... [Anthony] was shot having nothing but a lighter in his hand and possibly approaching the officers, it's a stretch to say it was a justifiable homicide," Engel told CBC News.

While Engel says the officer is allowed to do that under the Police Act, he called it an unfortunate double standard.

"If the tables were reversed and Anthony Heffernan had killed a police officer, they would have arrested him on the spot and had him in for an intensive interrogation trying to break down his will to remain silent. But that's not the case with a police officer, they don't arrest him, they carry on an investigation for months or even years."

Engel says the officer would be compelled to testify and hand over his notes for the civil suit and fatality inquiry.

The family of Anthony Heffernan is planning a civil suit after the officer who shot and killed the 27-year-old was cleared by the province's police watchdog in a report Monday. (Facebook)

Police say they forced entry into the motel room because Anthony was agitated and in medical distress, but non-responsive to their attempts to communicate with him, and said they were confronted with a "high-risk situation" once inside.

The key witnesses to the shooting were police officers who responded to the hotel room.

Family wants police to wear body cameras

After being shot with a conducted energy weapon — more commonly known as a Taser — Heffernan appeared to be largely unaffected.

From there, the officers' stories varied: some said Heffernan lunged at officers with his syringe, others said he stepped forward.

This is the closest an Alberta police officer has ever come to being held criminally responsible for a fatal shooting.

"We've been devastated for the last 17 months," said Anthony's mother, Irene Heffernan. "It's such a needless act."

The family says they want to see body-worn cameras on all CPS officers, something the service says is in the works.

Same officer involved in 2nd fatal shooting

Another factor troubling the Heffernan family is the fact that the same officer who killed Anthony was involved in another fatal shooting less than a year later.

He was one of three officers who shot and killed Dave McQueen, who had been firing shots around in his Huntington Hills neighbourhood and then got into a shootout with police.

That officer is now on administrative duties, according to Chief Roger Chaffin, who says he's considering an investigation under the Police Act.

Though the Heffernans called Anthony's killing a "murder," Chaffin's response was measured.

"They lost a son," said Chaffin. "I completely empathize with their grief."

Anthony's brother, Grant Heffernan, says the family needs closure.

"I'm still in shock right now, I'm devastated by the result," Grant said.

"We thought there was going to be a chance to get a day in court with this guy."

Anthony Heffernan, at right, stands with his family. He was the youngest of five children and was raised on an acreage in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Heffernan family)

While the family's anger is palpable, so is their grief.

"He was a really fun-loving person," said Pat Heffernan. 

"He loved his family, he loved people."