Inquest into fatal hospital shooting begins

A coroner's inquest began Tuesday into the 1999 fatal police shooting of a 26-year-old man at St. Michael's Hospital on New Year's Eve.

Police shot Henry Masuka while he was holding what appeared to be a gun to a doctor's head. It turned out to be an unloaded pellet gun.

Masuka had taken his infant son to the emergency room because he was suffering from an asthma attack.

During testimony Tuesday morning, the coroner's lawyer told the jury Masuka had been told there were no pediatricians on duty and there would be a 45-minute wait before a doctor could see his son.

Witnesses say Masuka went berserk and pulled out a gun wrapped in a towel. The coroner's lawyer said Masuka than put the gun to a doctor's head, demand his son be seen immediately and forced the doctor to the floor.

The police were called and two officers fired at Masuka, who was handcuffed and minutes later, died.

His son was not hurt during the incident and is living with his family.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit looked into the case and found the officers' response was legally justified because they did not know what kind of weapon Masuka was brandishing.

But because Masuka died while in police custody, an inquest into his death is mandatory.

Masuka's family says they were not satisfied with the outcome of the police investigation and hope new information will emerge during the inquest.

"We are looking for justice to be done, not just for us, for Masuka, but for everybody in the country," said John Masuka, Henry's father.

The inquest is expected to take about two weeks and 25 witnesses will be called. The coroner's jury will be asked to look at the response of the Toronto Police's Emergency Task Force, the actions of hospital staff and to make recommendations on how to avoid another such tragedy.

Hospital staff and police will testify Tuesday afternoon.

Masuka's family is also suing the police, the hospital and nine other defendants, claiming general and punitive damages.