PEI

No inquest to be held into fatal police shooting of Summerside man

The mother of an Island man who died after being shot by police last year says she's "extremely troubled" that no inquest will be held into her son's death. 

'An inquest would have been an important vehicle in the public interest,' says family's lawyer

Jeremy Stephens was fatally shot by Summerside police after an altercation in May 2018. (Submitted by the Stephens family)

The mother of an Island man who died after being shot by police last year says she's "extremely troubled" that no inquest will be held into her son's death. 

"I do not, and will not, accept that Jeremy's death following 6-8 gunshot wounds was 'accidental' and I will do what I must to ensure that a death like his does not happen again," said Gilda Stephens, in an email sent to CBC News.

Jeremy Stephens died May 27, 2018 in Prince County Hospital, after being shot by Summerside police.

A report by the Halifax-based Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), a civilian watchdog agency, cleared the police officers of any wrongdoing. The coroner's office has also reported its findings, not made public, to the Department of Justice and Public Safety. 

The Stephens family says it received notice on July 22 from justice officials that no coroner's inquest would be conducted.

"It's an extremely disappointing decision," said the Stephens family's lawyer, Julie Kirkpatrick, in an email to CBC News. 

"An inquest would have been an important vehicle in the public interest to establish the full circumstances that led to Jeremy's death, through the calling of evidence and the cross-examination of witnesses under oath," wrote Kirkpatrick.

"Ms. Stephens pushed for an inquest in order to ensure that a similar death does not occur in the future in Prince Edward Island."

Jeremy Stephens' mother Gilda Stephens, right, stands with her lawyer Julie Kirkpatrick, outside court in Summerside, June 6, 2018. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Jeremy Stephens was shot multiple times by two police officers in a darkened, cluttered basement in a house in Summerside, according to the SiRT report. Stephens, a suspect in a motel robbery a few hours earlier, came at the officers with a broken arm from a chair and a golf club. According to the report, Stephens ignored officers' commands to surrender, and told the police to "kill him."

Police had stun guns, did not use them

Police had stun guns on their belts, but did not use them, according to the report, due to cramped conditions in the basement.

Stephens died seven hours after arrival at hospital. A toxicology report found a "high level" of methamphetamine in his system.

"I am not satisfied with the information that has been provided to me by the Serious Incident Response Team, the investigating coroner, and the minister of justice," wrote Gilda Stephens in the email sent through her lawyer's office. "The information that has been provided to me is based largely on police files, is unchallenged and untested, and my many questions remain unanswered."

Justice officials said the SiRT report and coroner's findings were reviewed at length before coming to the decision not to hold an inquest.

"Mr. Stephens' death has been a matter of public record. It does not make accepting the death any easier. Losing a child, a brother or loved one has an undeniable long lasting impact on family and friends. It is natural to want to better understand what happened," wrote a communications officer on behalf of the Department of Justice, in an email to CBC News.

Inquest would have included questioning witnesses

"In this particular case, there was a thorough process with different independent experts looking at the circumstances of his death ... The [Attorney General's] Office trusts that the findings and recommendations of the N.S. SiRT and P.E.I. Coroner's Office sufficiently addressed the circumstances of his death. As such, the office will not be calling for an inquest."

A coroner's inquest is held at the recommendation of the chief provincial coroner, under the Coroner's Act.  An inquest would examine issues around the death, through the calling of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses. Inquests must be conducted when a person dies in a jail or other government institution, or when the chief coroner deems other questions need to be answered.

The lawyer for the Stephens family said they intend to issue a media statement in days to come.

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