Hamilton

Inquest into fatal shooting of Tony Divers hears dramatic 911 call from night he died

The first day of the inquest into the fatal police shooting of Tony Divers heard he was mentally unwell and spoke often of taking his own life.

Divers was shot by a Hamilton police officer on Sept. 30, 2016

Tony Divers was fatally shot by a Hamilton police officer on the night of Sept. 30, 2016. An inquest into his death began at that Hamilton courthouse Monday. (Facebook)

"He looks nuts. He's really dangerous. I don't know if he's armed."

Those words were spoken by Madeleine Peternel during a dramatic 911 call placed moments after her husband Tony Divers showed up at her work and hit her in the face on the night of Sept. 30, 2016.

A short time later Divers would be dead, shot by a police officer.

The 911 call was played during the first day of a coroner's inquest examining what led up to the 36-year-old's death. But recordings are all the inquest is likely to hear from Peternel as the jury was told despite repeated efforts by the coroner investigators to get in contact with her she had refused to participate.

During the call Peternal tells the dispatcher twice that she didn't know if Divers was armed.

The inquest also heard a statement Peternal gave just a day and a half later to investigators from the province's police watch dog where she reported telling a police officer she spoke with that night that Divers did not have a weapon.

The lawyer representing Divers's family said it was unfortunate Peternel wasn't present to face questions about inconsistencies in some of her statements. Presiding Coroner John Carlisle also noted that her absence limited the inquest's ability to question her. 

A security video from the night of the shooting night was played for the jury. It showed Divers wearing baggy white track pants and a dark-coloured jacket approach Peternel who's wearing a white jacket with the word "security" on the back.

He seems to sway as he walks up the sidewalk, then the two appear to argue before he suddenly swings, striking her on the left cheek before limping off.

"I was getting upset and he punched me in the face," she explained to the SIU, adding she confronted Divers because there was a "no contact" order between them.

Then-wife said Divers seen with 'toy gun' earlier that day

She says he looked sick.

"His skin was like grey," she said during the interview, commenting several times on how skinny he appeared and the fact that the only sounds he appeared to be able to make were mumbled words. 

"I know he was definitely on crystal meth and had been smoking fentanyl."

The inquest heard blood tests after Divers's death showed evidence of methamphetamine and THC.

Peternel told the SIU she had seen Divers around 10 a.m. that same day with a plastic "toy gun" tucked in his waistband, but insisted several times that she told the officer who came to take her statement that she did not see any weapons when he approached her outside the bar.

"[The officer] called it in that he possibly was armed and I specifically told her 'No, no he's not armed,'" she said, going on to explain that she believes if Divers was armed he would not have hit her.

"I'm going to go with the fact that he would have used the weapon on me for sure."

This still, taken from a video shown to the Divers inquest Monday shows the moment he struck his then-wife Madeleine Peternel outside the bar where she was working at the time. (Anthony Divers Inquest)

Peternal added when she saw Divers earlier that day he was upset, and repeatedly struck himself in the face, so she dropped him off.

"He said his goal was to be shot and killed ... he's sick," she to the the SIU, explaining what she claimed to have told the officer that night. "He said, like, 'Tonight if nobody helps me I'm just going to go out and ... hopefully someone shoots and kills me.' He was hearing voices. He just wanted to die."

Peternel said while she was standing with the officer she suddenly heard someone shout "shots fired" over the police radio and that she started freaking out.

The SIU cleared the officer who shot Divers of any criminal wrongdoing in 2017.

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

In refusing to participate in the inquest, the jury heard that Peternel did not want to take part out of fear for her safety and that of her children based on comments made by Divers's family members and because she was banned from the courthouse.

Outside the courthouse, Roy Wellington, the lawyer representing Divers's family, said he believes Peternel's statement that she may have been threatened has "no foundation."

He added he's not surprised she didn't agree to appear as a witness, but it's still unfortunate.

"This would have been an opportunity for the family to ask some questions about the numerous inconsistencies in her statements." ​​​​​

Gary Clewley, the lawyer working with the police officers involved in the incident said he also has concerns about the information Peternel provided in the recordings.

"I think the best thing to do would be to hear from the officer who took that statement," he explained.

Divers planned to 'start a new life' in B.C.

The first day of the inquest also heard from Yvonne Alexander, Divers's sister, who described him as someone for whom "family was everything."

Alexander said her brother never ended a phone conversation without telling his family he loved them, adding he was always trying to make others laugh.

"Anthony gave the warmest hugs ever," she said, holding a black and white portrait of Divers taken a few months before his death. "What I wouldn't do for one of those hugs today."

She said Divers was passionate about body building and wanted to become a personal trainer, but he was bullied in his teens and fell in with a bad crowd.

Yvonne Alexander, Tony Divers's sister, held this photo of him during when she took the witness stand first day of the inquest into his death. (Anthony Divers Inquest)

He was incarcerated for manslaughter, but Alexander said he was very close with their parents, who visited him "faithfully" in prison.

In 2007 and 2008 their parents passed away just 36 days apart.

"He thought their early demise was his fault as they were broken up over their son's incarceration," she told the jury.

Divers said the family tried to tell him he wasn't to blame, but his mental health continued to suffer after his release and he also struggled with drug use.

"He spoke of ending his life to be with his parents," Alexander said, adding she's aware of him trying to take his own life at least once and that family members brought him to hospital numerous times.

His last discharge was Sept. 24, 2016 — just six days before the shooting.

Alexander said she believes her brother was often not well when he left the hospital, sometimes signing himself out against medical advice.

Part of a medical document dated August 26, 2016, which was entered as an exhibit in the inquest states since being released from prison Divers reports "wanting to end his life and end his suffering" daily.

Leslie-Ann Wilson, Edward Divers and Yvonne Alexander hold a portrait of their brother. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Despite his struggle, Alexander said Divers had spoken with his probation officer and made arrangements to head to B.C. on Oct. 5 to "start a new life."

Yvonne Hamilton, Divers's first wife, also took the witness stand, describing him as an "amazing person."

She told the inquest Divers started doing drugs more often in prison after his parents died, but she eventually gave him an ultimatum to quite using drugs and when he couldn't she ended the relationship.

'Two shots were fired and it was over'

In the afternoon the inquest heard from Daniel Walker, and HSR employee who witnessed the fatal shooting.

He said that on the night of the shooting a police cruiser without its emergency lights going pulled in front of the bus he was riding on to block it in near the corner of James Street South and Bold Street.

Walker said when he walked around the bus he saw the officer braced, with his gun drawn, pointing it at Divers who was 15 to 20 feet away.

"He just kept telling the guy 'Show me your hands, show me your hands' You couldn't help but hear it," said Walker. "The whole street could hear it."

Walker said Divers had one hand behind his back and was swaying from side to side when he made a move toward the officer who pulled the trigger.

"Two shots were fired and it was over."

Outside court Wellington said it means a lot to the Divers family to have an opportunity to learn more about what lead up to their loved one's death.

"The family is thankful that this process is taking place," he explained. "We're hopeful we'll able to ... make jury recommendations that are made to the police service so we can avoid deaths like this in the future."

The inquest continues Tuesday.

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