Ex-paramedic charged in death of Yosif Al-Hasnawi says the teen was 'uncooperative'

Christopher Marchant is one of the former paramedics charged in relation to the death of gunshot victim, Yosif Al-Hasnawi. He said he thought the teen had a psychiatric emergency, and called him "uncooperative."

Marchant says he believed the problem was a psychiatric emergency, not a gunshot wound

Yosif Al-Hasnawi recites the Qur'an during a religious ceremony moments before he got into an altercation outside the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre, and was shot and killed. (Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre)

A former Hamilton paramedic accused of not properly caring for a dying Hamilton teenager testified on Tuesday in his own defence.

Christopher Marchant who, with Steven Snively, is charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life, gave his version of what happened the night Yosif Al-Hasnawi was shot and killed.

He spoke of an "uncooperative" patient, who pulled off cables, flailed and kicked. He said Al-Hasnawi ignored his questions, but was speaking in Arabic to his father, who had run over from a nearby mosque to where the teen was shot at Main and Sanford in Hamilton's central lower city. 

It was Dec. 2, 2017 and Al-Hasnawi died that night. 

The court has heard that the paramedics thought he'd been shot with a BB gun. In fact, he'd been shot with a hollow-point bullet from a .22-caliber handgun, which perforated an artery and vein. 

Al-Hasnawi was shot at 8:55 p.m. and was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital around one hour later. 

Father 'interrupted' assessment, says accused 

Marchant said Al-Hasnawi's injury looked like a pimple that was recently squeezed.

"I never saw any blood," he said, and added that he had witnessed "bigger pellet gun injuries" than Al-Hasnawi's wound. 

Marchant remembered trying to speak to Al-Hasnawi, but said he never received a direct reply. Instead, Marchant said the teen would speak Arabic to his dad, which he took as a sign that breathing was under control. 

He told the court that the father's presence was "interrupting [his] assessment," and though he asked for a translation, the father replied, "just help my son."

"I never heard Yosif say anything in English until in the back of the ambulance," Marchant said. That's where he remembered the dying teen saying, "I can't breathe." 

But Marchant doesn't remember hearing this at all on scene. He also said he didn't hear or make a comment that Al-Hasnawi should "win an Oscar for his performance," as other witnesses have testified. 

A police officer, Marchant said, made statements like, "stand up, act your age, if I shine my light hard enough I can find the pellet."

Victim was lifted multiple times

After assessing Al-Hasnawi and asking the father about drugs, alcohol, and whether the teen was acting himself, Marchant said the paramedics believed the teenager might be having a psychiatric emergency.

"I think [Snively] believed it was a BB gun or pellet gun as well," he said of the wound. 

Al-Hasnawi had been moved near the stretcher by his brother and some bystanders, after Marchant and a police officer failed to get him to his feet. 

Marchant said he and Snively tried a "fore and aft lift" multiple times to get Al-Hasnawi on the stretcher, but it didn't work. He said Al-Hasnawi was "making the lift difficult and unsafe" by wiggling his arms. 

He said they asked someone to talk to Al-Hasnawi, and eventually moved him over.

Paramedic describes 'uncooperative' patient

The paramedics chose to stay on scene for further assessments. Dr. Richard Verbeek, medical director for Toronto paramedics at the Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine, testified that the tests should have been done en route, and one of them not at all. 

But Marchant said the paramedics decided he needed a full set of vitals to "try and figure out what's going on." 

He described Al-Hasnawi as being "uncooperative" — he said the teen would flail, kick and remove his oxygen mask and cables — which meant he couldn't take the measurements by himself.

When the paramedics asked questions, Marchant said, Al-Hasnawi would make eye contact and look away. 

A Hamilton police officer, Sgt. Nesreen Shawihat, assisted them in the ambulance. He remembered her saying to Al-Hasnawi, "your dad told me you were going to be a doctor, why don't you start acting like one?"

The sergeant asked if restraints were available, Marchant said. Al-Hasnawi was tied down to the stretcher

After more tests, the ambulance left for St. Joseph's Hospital. But it didn't have lights or sirens, Marchant said, because he didn't think they were necessary. 

He said he tried to reassure Al-Hasnawi — Marchant maintains he still believed he was having a psychiatric emergency, even when the 19-year-old became non-responsive. 

"[Rerouting to a different hospital] wasn't a consideration to me. I still didn't believe it was a penetrating trauma," Marchant said. 

Lights and sirens were turned on, and the ambulance arrived. Al-Hasnawi was transferred to an emergency bed, and Marchant said he helped perform CPR. 

"His abdominal wound...started squirting out [blood] onto me and the people around me," he said. 

On a call the next morning, which was recorded by dispatcher Janice Mcmeekan who testified in the trial, Marchant spoke about his surprise that Al-Hasnawi was shot with a handgun.

He also said the teen was acting like a "dickhead."

"Wrong choice of words," Marchant said, and noted he didn't know the call was being recorded. "I was just frustrated the following morning."

This is a landmark trial, one in which emergency responders face criminal charges for how they treated a patient on scene. 

The Ontario Superior Court trial has moved over to Zoom out of safety concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Witnesses had been testifying at the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton, where the trial started on Nov. 24. 

Among the witnesses who have testified so far: first responders, emergency room physicians, and Al-Hasnawi's family members who were at the scene the night the teen was shot. All testimony so far has been for the Crown. 

Court resumed briefly on Monday following a winter break before adjourning to go online for the remainder of the week.

Michael DelGobbo of St. Catharines, who represents Snively, will ask Marchant further questions on Wednesday. 

The trial will be decided by Ontario Superior Court Justice Harrison Arrell alone. 

The Crown attorneys are Scott Patterson and Linda Shin.

The person who shot Al-Hasnawi, Dale King, was acquitted last year of second-degree murder. That case is being appealed.