Steve Mesic inquest explores 41 decisive and fatal seconds

Day 4 of the inquest saw the lawyer for Mesic's family pressing one of the officers who shot him on what happened in those 41 seconds and why no other choices could have been made other than shooting.
Steve Mesic was shot and killed in June 2013. An inquest into the former steelworker's death continues Thursday. (Mesic family)

In his closing questions before Hamilton Police Const. Michael McLellan left the stand at the inquest into the death of a man he shot, Steve Mesic, lawyer Carr Hatch posed a scenario. 

Hatch asked how could a man with five hollow-point bullets in his chest and one in his back walk 30 feet with a shovel in his hands before he died, while a police constable stood in one spot instead of attempting to tackle Mesic, because he was afraid to trip.

"Could I have (moved)? Possibility. Did I? No," said McLellan.

"I justify that reason for my own safety."

McLellan's testimony came on the fourth day into the coroner's inquest into the death of Mesic who, last June, walked out of a psychiatric ward of St. Joseph's Hospital and attempted to step headlong into traffic twice before being killed by police while wielding a shovel in a field near his Mountain home. 

'He was trying to get us to kill him'

Also on the stand Thursday was the forensic pathologist who performed a postmortem on Mesic, finding five of six bullets that hit him were each fatal wounds, and the EMS worker who told the inquest the garden shovel found five feet north of Mesic's body seemed "unusual."

But it was the same spade that McLellan said could have killed him if he attempted to use non-lethal force on Mesic as he crawled under a chain link fence to get closer to the officers. 

In hindsight, without a doubt he was trying to get us to kill him.- Const. Michael McLellan

"Without a doubt I would have been hurt pretty badly," McLellan said of the possibility of him falling in the thick bush behind Mesic's mountain home. "It would not have ended well for myself."

He also didn't doubt what Mesic's intentions were when police confronted him after they followed him into the dense brush.

"In hindsight, without a doubt he was trying to get us to kill him," McLellan said. 

An unusual start

McLellan took the stand Thursday after a brief delay at the start of the day. Regional coroner Dr. Jack Stanborough addressed the court before the day started holding a note that was taped to the jury's door with a question, however he never read the note in court. 

To start Thursday's testimony, Hatch, counsel for Mesic's fiancee Sharon Dorr, questioned why McLellan didn't use pepper spray while the chain link fence separated him and Cons. Kevin Farrell from Mesic. 

He also questioned why no shots struck Mesic in the left bicep that would have been across his chest if he did indeed have a shovel cocked like a baseball bat ready to swing at the officers 

And he also asked why Mesic's right hand had part of his middle finger shot off, evidenced by the bullet-sized hole missing on his right middle finger, supposedly on a shovel that had no damage to it.

Time from guns drawn to shots fired: 41 seconds

"What happened in between felt like a very short period of time," McLellan said of the time gap established by the radio calls he made with dispatch. "But we know its 41 seconds. That's all I can say."

Those 41 seconds are from when McLellan radioed they were making a "gun point arrest" to when he radioed "shots fired."

In that time, McLellan and Cons. Kevin Farrell, who fired four shots into Mesic, told the inquest they did not have time nor safe enough footing to de-escalate from using lethal force on Mesic, who had been voluntarily staying at a mental health ward of St. Joe's- before leaving that morning.

Carr peppered McLellan with questions related to time — how long it took Mesic to get to the fence, climb under it and walk eight feet to where McLellan and Farrell were when they opened fire. 

The Hamilton constable said he couldn't recall the times of each event, agreeing to having some "tunnel vision" while the event unfolded.

McLellan also said that attempting to pepper spray and tackle Mesic in the wooded berm beside Mesic's home, which backed onto the Lincoln Alexander Parkway near Upper Wentworth, was never "not an option for me."

McLellan said that the best option for him was the "stand your ground and hope (Mesic) comes out of that trance."

Mesic could have walked after being shot: Expert

Dr. John Fernandes, a veteran pathologist who has completed more than 3,500 postmortems, said the bullet that went through Mesic's finger could have been from multiple possibilities. 

While he did determine the bullet entered the nail side of the hand and went out the palm side, it could have been a fragment from a bullet that grazed Mesic's chest. 

He also said that since the damage was limited to Mesic's chest and organs and not his walking muscles in his legs, buttocks and back, walking for ten seconds after being shot six times was a possibility. 

"It would not have been a great distance," Fernandes told the inquest. "The more difficult the terrain the more likely the distance would be shorter."

Hamilton EMS staffer John Finch said he when he arrived on the scene, he saw Mesic with his shirt cut open with his hands behind his back and a shovel five feet north of the body. 

"There was a small garden spade," Finch said. "It appeared to be an unusual object. It didn't belong in that scene... It just didn't make any sense."

The 10-day inquest resumes Friday.