Calgary police defend actions in shooting of Latjor Tuel

Alberta's policing watchdog, ASIRT, is calling on witnesses to come forward while it continues its investigation into the police shooting of Latjor Tuel, who was fatally wounded in southeast Calgary on Saturday.

CPS says it responded to assault call, not a report about mental health

A memorial of flowers, stuffed animals and candles pays tribute to the life of Latjor Tuel near the intersection of 17th Avenue and 45th Street S.E. in Calgary. Tuel, who family say suffered from mental health issues, was fatally shot by Calgary Police Service officers on Saturday. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Alberta's policing watchdog is calling on witnesses to come forward while it continues its investigation into the police shooting of Latjor Tuel, who was killed in southeast Calgary on Saturday. 

Tuel's family and the wider South Sudanese community have expressed shock and frustration with the way the incident was handled, saying that Tuel, a former child soldier, was suffering from PTSD at the time he was killed. 

Calgary police have defended their actions. 

"This situation involved a person, armed with weapons, who had committed an assault," said Chief Mark Neufeld on Tuesday. "This was a police call and police were the appropriate resource."

Some have suggested that mental health resources should have been dispatched to assist Tuel, who had long experienced mental health issues.

"The call the police responded to was not, when reported, about mental health," Neufeld said. "It was a complaint of an assault involving a man in possession of a knife and a stick."

Akeir Mel Kuol, a Sudanese counsellor in Calgary and CEO of Best Help Family Foundation, told CBC's The Homestretch that she was devastated when she heard the news. Kuol said she was concerned that the incident would retraumatize members of the South Sudanese community in Calgary, many of whom encountered violence before immigrating to Canada. 

Kuol said that while accessing mental health services is stigmatized in the South Sudanese community, Tuel had been receiving medical attention.

"I'm very concerned as to why [his] records weren't pulled up [during the incident]," Kuol said. 

Several calls were made to police on Saturday afternoon stating that Tuel had allegedly assaulted someone in Forest Lawn with a wooden stick and that he was carrying a knife. Police arrived on scene at 17th Avenue S.E. near 44th Street just after 3:30 p.m. 

In a video of the incident circulated on social media, Tuel can be seen sitting on a sidewalk while police seemingly engage in a dialogue with him from a distance. 

When Tuel stood up, police fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disarm him, they say. Another officer used a taser on Tuel as he approached them. Police say two officers fired their service weapons after Tuel stabbed a police dog in the neck with the knife. 

Tuel was pronounced dead shortly after. 

"It's an incredibly sorrowful time in our city," said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. "We have to remain committed to helping the community and family members get through this time.

"I'm concerned that we haven't managed to bring a strong enough network for newcomers to be supported when they come here, especially when they bring with them incredibly complex trauma."

The police shooting is being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT). It investigates incidents involving Alberta police officers that result in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

ASIRT said it will "examine the circumstances surrounding the use of force" in Tuel's death. It said no additional information will be released while the investigation ongoing. 

In a statement released on Tuesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley offered her condolences to Tuel's family. 

"The use of force cannot and should not be a substitute for trauma-informed care and mental health support. Racialized communities deserve better care and compassion from our institutions, including policing," she said.

Kuol said the manner of Tuel's death has spawned a lot of distrust in the South Sudanese community toward not only police, but other institutions as well, such as the justice and health-care systems.

She said she hopes the ASIRT investigation will reveal what measures, if any, were taken to find out more about Tuel's past before decisions by police were made. 

"You're dealing with a [someone] that is coming from a background of war. So when a gun is being pointed, that is simply a threat."