Clara MacDougall's brother was killed by Hamilton cops and she still hasn't been told why
Chief says unit helps people with mental health issues get 'quality, timely and coordinated service'
As the Hamilton Police Services Board listened to a presentation about the successes of the Crisis Support Unit Thursday, four people sat in the audience at city hall in silent protest.
Krista Keithley held a bright green poster board with the words "WE WANT ALL OF THESE POLICE MEN TO FACE JUSTICE" in big, black, block letters.
Beside her was Clara MacDougall, whose 19-year-old brother Quinn was shot and killed by police just over a month earlier.
Melanie Schronk, Quinn's girlfriend, was in the crowd too, along with her mother, Heather Doherty.
After listening to the presentation, the women said they were left with one question: Where was the specialized unit meant to assist vulnerable people or those in a mental health crisis when Quinn was shot?
"I wanted to know why they weren't dispatched when my brother called for their help," said MacDougall. "They say that they do training to deal with de-escalation, but I don't think it's enough."
Quinn's sister identified him as the teen fatally shot by police at a townhouse complex on the West Mountain after reports of a threat in progress involving a weapon. He was the one who had called police for help, apparently after become distraught over some threats he had received via social media.
Two officers fired their weapons and struck the teen, according to the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which has taken over the case. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.
An SIU spokesperson previously declined to comment on whether the teen was carrying a weapon or whether Tasers were used prior to the shooting. Witnesses have reported Tasers were used before police opened fire.
Shannon Windsor, whose sons were playing hockey outside when Quinn was shot, previously told CBC News her said he was "very frightened and scared." He used her brother's phone to call police, but became even more distraught when they arrived.
"He was under mental distress, he was in mental crisis, he was frightened and he called the police for help," Windsor said.
Teen called police about threats
MacDougall and her family are still working to piece together what happened.
She said most of what they've gleaned has come from neighbours or comments on social media — the SIU has told them "barely anything at all."
Three calls and on the third call he was hysterical … to me that screams crisis.- Heather Doherty, mother of Quinn's girlfriend
"Apparently he was getting threatening messages over social media," the 28-year-old explained, adding she was told her brother called police three separate times before they arrived.
Now, the family wants to know how someone without a history of mental health issues, who called police for help ended up being shot by the people meant to protect him.
"We're not doing well," she said. "My mom is really depressed."
Girlfriend called minutes before shooting
Schronk said Quinn called her just minutes before he was shot. Over the phone he was hysterical. She couldn't make out what he was trying to say.
"There needs to be some sort of justice and answers to all of these questions we have," she said. "We need the pieces to the puzzle of what happened in the five minutes I got off the phone with him and he was shot."
Doherty added that based on what her daughter has told her about the call, it was clear Quinn needed help.
"They went on today about 'Oh we have this great mental health care and they're properly trained and they deescalate the situation,'" she said after the police board meeting, "But after three calls and on the third call he was hysterical … to me that screams crisis."
Unit provides 'right response at the right time'
In a document introducing Thursday's presentation about the specialized unit comprised of police, paramedics and mental health workers, Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt wrote it has "provides persons in crisis the right response at the right time."
The chief also wrote that the unit ensures "vulnerable individuals are receiving quality, timely and coordinated service to their mental health needs."
One of the unit's goals moving forward will be to raise awareness among the service and community about mental health issues to reduce the stigma surrounding them.
Doherty said the recent example of the Toronto police officer who managed to arrest a suspect after the van attack that killed 10 and injured 16 on April 23, shows someone can be taken into custody without deadly force.
"This isn't the wild, Wild West," she added.
Sister plans to speak before police board
The women said what they want from police is accountability.
"It doesn't bring Quinn back, and it doesn't heal the heartache that everybody else is having, but it does mean there won't be another family here … wondering the same things," said Doherty.
One of the reasons MacDougall wanted to sit through the police board meeting is that she plans to speak before it when it gathers again next month. That's when she's hoping police will finally offer her and her family some answers.
with files from Laura Clementson