Police union head: Officer who shot Tony Divers 'acted exactly as he was trained to do'

The SIU decision released Thursday marks “a huge psychological load that’s been taken off his shoulders,” said Clint Twolan, Hamilton Police Association president.
A picture of Tony Divers and some flowers served as a memorial outside Yvonne Alexander's home, where representatives from the SIU met with her and her siblings Thursday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The head of the union representing Hamilton police officers said the officer who shot and killed an unarmed man downtown last fall was acting in line with police training. And Clint Twolan said he was satisfied to see that reflected in the decision released Thursday.

Twolan, Hamilton Police Association president said that for the officer, who wasn't named in the report by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the decision marks "a huge psychological load that's been taken off his shoulders." 

A photo posted to Facebook identifies this man as Tony Divers. (Facebook)

"The officer acted exactly as he was trained to do," he said.

But he said the more than 10 months it took for the SIU to release its decision was unacceptable.

Beyond the burden the officer carries, Twolan said, it's a long time for families of victims to wait.

"I know that the families and the people on the other side of this coin, they deserve more than they're receiving as well," he said. "I can only imagine in some cases how difficult it is for the families. Closure is an important thing."

Anthony Divers was shot and killed on a busy downtown street, right by Hamilton GO Centre, shortly before midnight on Sept. 30.

In its decision, the SIU said officers responding to a call that Divers had assaulted a women had been told he was armed, was high on drugs, had a violent history and was considered "anti-police."

The report says when the officer confronted Divers, he started walking away from the officer, ignoring his calls to stop and get on the ground.

It says he then turned around with his hand in the waistband of his pants and took two steps toward him, taking something out from the front of pants and pointing it at the officer.

The officer fired two shots, one hitting Divers in the chest.

Divers, 36, was rushed to hospital after he was shot by Hamilton police on James Street South. He was pronounced dead in hospital. (Andrew Collins/CBC)

Family dissatisfied

Even still, the older brother of the man who was killed said Friday he wasn't satisfied with the release of the decision.

He found the witness accounts in the full SIU report contradictory, and said he's disappointed to have waited this long, only to still not have closure. 

"Somebody's got to be accountable for a dead man without a weapon," said Edward Divers, Divers' brother, on Friday.

"These are the same things every time somebody gets killed. Always the same story," said Divers' sister, Yvonne Alexander, Thursday night.

"They don't know how to de-escalate. They don't use their Tasers. They just pulled that gun and that's it – and react."

Tony Divers' siblings Leslie-Ann Wilson, Edward Divers and Yvonne Alexander were disappointed in the decision, read to them by SIU representatives in Hamilton at Alexander's home on Thursday night. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

In a brief statement Friday, the Hamilton Police Service acknowledged the SIU decision clearing the officer.

"The loss of life is a tragedy," the statement said. "We extend our condolences to the Divers family."

'I think all of these things came together'

Twolan said the report showed the officer felt that he was in a position where he had no other alternative, and he reacted to it.

The narrative released Thursday by the SIU reflected a "whole series of events" leading up to Divers' death that night, Twolan said.

"It wasn't just the assault. It was the information that was received," he said.

"It was the history of Tony Divers. It was the behaviour of Tony Divers. I think all of these things came together and ultimately ended up in the situation that we're in now."

Edward Divers, however, said he was concerned that the SIU report noted so much about Divers' history in what went into the interaction.

He said the decision and explanation for why the shooting is justified felt to him like "an eye for an eye," that his brother was treated as a "violent thug" with no regard for his mental illness.

Twolan said the distance between the officer and Divers, which the SIU report said was about 6.35 metres, was near or past the end of the range that a conducted energy weapon, commonly known as a Taser, would be effective.

Clint Twolan, president of the Hamilton Police Association, said the officer who shot Divers acted within his training. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The maximum distance is 21 feet, Twolan said. He said he used to train officers that Tasers were most effective within a distance more like 12 or 14 feet, he said.

"Your other option is, do you let him get closer?" Twolan said.

The SIU report said that the officer considered using his Taser, but thought that the way Divers' hand was "tenting" his sweater could have made the Taser ineffective.

Now the officer will face an internal investigation within the police service. Divers' death may also generate a coroner's inquest.