Police shooting witness tells inquest teen's death 'should have been avoided'

The eye witness to the police shooting of Gatineau, Que., teen Brandon Maurice told a coroner's inquest it should never have happened.

Coroner's inquest to hear a week of testimony examining death of Brandon Maurice in November 2015

A Quebec coroner's inquest is hearing testimony about the death of Brandon Maurice, who was shot by a Quebec provincial police officer on Nov. 16, 2015. (Facebook)

The eye witness to the police shooting of Gatineau, Que., teen Brandon Maurice told a coroner's inquest it should never have happened.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 2015, Chris Houle watched from the passenger seat of Maurice's car as a Quebec provincial police officer shot Maurice, who was sitting in the driver's seat, during a struggle.

"I may not know a lot about law and police processes; I'm not an expert," Houle explained in French to deputy chief coroner Luc Malouin on Tuesday. "But this should have been avoided."

Brandon Maurice's mother, Dominque Bernier, fought for the inquest examining her son's death. (Radio Canada)

It capped a day and a half of testimony from Houle about the shooting death of the 17-year-old. 

Family and friends of Maurice have long demanded answers, suggesting police used excessive force. Quebec's chief coroner, Catherine Rudel-Tessier, ordered an inquiry last May to shed light on what happened.

Maurice's mother, Dominique Bernier, wiped tears away during some of the graphic testimony. She told reporters she hopes the findings will prevent other police shootings.

Officer not charged by police watchdog

The inquest has also heard testimony from Montreal police, who were asked by Quebec's police watchdog, Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), to conduct an independent investigation after the shooting.

When a police officer smashed his drive's-side window, Maurice drove forward with the police officer hanging out of the car before the officer fired his gun, killing Maurice. (Roland Carrier/Radio-Canada)

That investigation ended in 2016 with a decision not to charge the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officer involved.

The investigation suggested two SQ officers following Maurice's car decided to turn on their cruiser's siren and flashing lights after discovering the licence plates did not match the car.

Houle terrified as friend drove 160 km/h

Instead of slowing down, Maurice sped up, trying to evade police. Houle testified he was terrified as Maurice drove at speeds exceeding 160 km/h.

Houle told the inquest he begged his friend to slow down and at one point grabbed the hand brake, which turned out to be broken.

The chase ended about 10 kilometres later at chemin de la Ferme and rue Patry, close to Lac Blue Sea in the municipality of Messines, Que.

Houle testified he and Maurice sat in the car as an officer approached the driver's side with his gun drawn, and at some point smashed the window and reached into the car.

Teens couldn't hear officer screaming

The independent investigators testified the officer told them he'd been screaming at Maurice to open the car door, but Houle testified the teens couldn't hear the officer until the driver's-side window was smashed.

A struggle ensued to open the driver's-side door, and the car moved forward with the officer hanging out, his feet dragging on the ground. 

The officer then fired his gun at Maurice at point-blank range. Maurice died in hospital, and the pathologist responsible for the autopsy testified Maurice died from a fatal bullet wound through this neck.

The pathologist also suggested there were no signs Maurice had been drinking, and only trace amounts of cannabis. 

A dozen people are expected to testify during the week-long inquest, which is expected to end Friday. The officers involved in the incident are expected to testify next.