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"Andreas will never be forgotten": Chinnery family reflects after inquest

The family of Andreas Chinnery is still searching for answers after the official inquest into his death has closed.
Sacha Unkerskov-Chinnery, Andreas' sister, sitting in Gore Park. (Ben Dyment/CBC)

Sacha Unkerskov-Chinnery sits on a bench in Gore Park, looking forward as she tries to keep her composure.

"Andreas was an exuberant, lively, and loyal person," she said. "He was easygoing, fun and loving, and always wanted to help others and cared deeply about everyone who knew him. He was unique."

Andreas Chinnery was 19 when he was shot and killed by police in his Barton Street East apartment on Feb, 2, 2011, after being called to the home by a neighbour who heard excessive verbal and physical commotion.

Andreas will never be forgotten. He is missed and loved everyday.- Sacha Unkerskov-Chinnery

A coroner's inquest into what happened, and 18 jury recommendations coming from it, aimed at improving policing, mental health treatment and drug laws have done little to ease the family's pain over what happened. 

Hamilton police Constable Michael McNaughton told the inquest jury that he and his partner, Constable Bryan Spencer were met at the door of the apartment by Chinnery, brandishing a baseball bat and ignoring their commands to drop it.

After smashing the bat once on the door and coming towards them, McNaughton decided that he was facing a life-threatening situation, and shot Chinnery twice. Both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the SIU, but it took until March 7, 2016 for an official inquest to be held. 

A photo of Andreas Chinnery and his sisters Sacha and Mikaela, taken on December 24, 2009 on his birthday at their Mother's house. (Chinnery Family)

After 21 witnesses and detailed cross-examinations of police and others who knew Chinnery before the incident, the jury arrived at a number of recommendations, including suggestions for police in dealing with high-risk situations and their current use-of-force tactics.  

For the family, of which Andreas was the youngest of four, the week-long proceedings were difficult at best.

Though they have accepted that Andreas likely suffered a mental breakdown, the multiple police testimonies and evidence have been cause for both scrutiny and pain.  

"When Constable McNaughton was on the stand, I could look him in the face even though he did shoot my brother," she said.

"We never had any condolences, just that it had to be done and that they're sorry our brother put himself in a situation where he needed to be shot. To lawyers, apology admits guilt."

'Stories are mixed up'

For the family, while the inquest provided some answers it also left questions in their minds about what happened.

Neighbours reported hearing different things coming from his apartment. During the round of testimonies, Max Fedorchak, who lived in a basement unit in the apartment at the time of the incident, made a series of comments at odds with those of the other neighbours' recollections.

"He stated that Andreas clearly said, "kill me or I'll kill you" and that the police repeated "drop the bat" three times," she said. "Nobody else stated that Andreas said, "kill me or I'll kill you," not even the police in their testimonies."

"I don't understand how Fedorchak could hear this from the basement," she continued.

 "Mark Briggs lived directly beneath Andreas, and he heard him say "I knew it" and the police only say "drop it", not "drop the bat". He also thought the door might have been pushed open, but the police state that Andreas actually opened the door." 

We never had any condolences, just that it had to be done and that they're sorry our brother put himself in a situation where he needed to be shot.- Sacha Unkerskov-Chinnery

They also wonder how, amid the rest of the destruction of his room that was created during his breakdown, his sunglasses ended up folded on a coffee table.

Photos of the apartment taken by the SIU after Andreas' body was removed show a green and silver bat lodged in a television set, and another wooden bat on top of a chair. The sunglasses Chinnery was said to have been wearing were pictured sitting folded on the coffee table in his unit.

The evidence remains a major point of contention for the family.

"How would a bat magically end up in a television, and sunglasses fly off somebody's face, fold in the air and end up on a coffee table?" she said.

"Would they not be on the floor and end up by his body like they stated? Their story doesn't add up and I think it's super important because the police need to be transparent about their actions."

'we can't just shoot people'

Another point of frustration is how the calls from neighours got translated into the dispatch message the responding officers received. Despite the initial police call by next-door neighbour Christina Batari stating that she thought Andreas "might be crazy", the dispatch call from the HPS communication branch informed officers of an 'ongoing domestic abuse' case, leading them to believe there was a woman in danger at the apartment.

During testimonies, police staff explained that their communication centres undergo extensive training. Dispatch training was the target of one of the inquest recommendations.

A photo of Andreas Chinnery taken December 24, 2009 on his 17th Birthday at his Mother's house. (Chinnery family)

"What concerns me about that is their dispatch did say it was a life threatening situation because of what Andreas was saying, but only two officers were there," said Unkerskov-Chinnery.

"Why didn't they send four cruisers to deal with this instead of just going upstairs and jumping the gun, literally? They're supposed to not only protect their lives, but his life and anybody else that's just a regular civilian. We can't just shoot people. We can't."

Though the inquest is now over, closure is still a difficult and ongoing process for the family. 

"Maybe the laws should be re-written to better protect youth and people in mental crisis," she reflected.

 "I'm sort of an advocate for that myself. I've worked in a lot of women's shelters and the Salvation Army and I've seen police be disrespectful to people due to mental illnesses, homelessness or living in lower social-economic areas, and that hurts me. I want people to have respect and justice. They deserve that much."  

"Andreas will never be forgotten. He is missed and loved everyday. We just hope that the public will remember and respect his memory as well."

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