Saskatchewan

Métis man was handcuffed after being fatally shot by Regina police, inquest hears

The mother of Geoffrey Morris, who was fatally shot by Regina police, accused officers at an inquest of escalating the situation that led to his death in 2019 — and the officer who shot the man offered his apology to the family, but maintained he had no choice.

'You guys just escalated everything. You pushed it,' mother tells officer who shot Geoffrey Morris in 2019

Geoff Morris was fatally shot by police in Regina on May 4, 2019. An inquest into his death began on Monday. (Geoff Morris/Facebook)

The mother of a Métis man fatally shot by Regina police accused officers at an inquest Tuesday of escalating the situation that led to his death in 2019 — and the officer who shot the man offered his apology to the family, but maintained he had no choice.

For over two years, the family of Geoffrey Morris have been looking for answers surrounding his death and have questioned the lethal force used by police, and the service's policies around policing Indigenous people. 

Over the first two days of testimony at a coroner's inquest into his death, which is scheduled for five days, the five-member jury heard from several police officers, including a forensic specialist, negotiators, a toxicologist and the officer who fatally shot Morris.

Morris, a 41-year-old father, was fatally shot by police in his own apartment on the morning of May 4, 2019, the inquest jury heard — the first time in nearly 20 years an on-duty Regina Police Service officer had killed someone.

Cpl. Devon Lee Sterling — who was a constable at the time of the shooting — shot Morris with a carbine rifle, firing it about six metres away from Morris and aiming right above his left eye, according to testimony at the inquest.

The bullet travelled through Morris's head, through a child's stuffed caterpillar that was behind Morris on the couch, and through a wall before it landed on the floor of a utility room. 

Morris died in his living room, surrounded by children's toys and framed photographs on the wall. 

Dealing with a hostage situation

Just 90 minutes earlier, at around 5:45 a.m., four Regina police officers arrived at Morris's apartment building on the 1900 block of Halifax Street after receiving a complaint of a dispute. 

Inside Apt. 202, police could hear a couple arguing, the inquest heard.

After multiple attempts to get those inside to answer the door, Const. Rylan Trithart kicked the door down. The impact injured a woman inside the apartment. 

She fled the apartment with her head bleeding but Morris remained in the apartment along with his fiancée.

According to testimony from one of the police officers at the inquest, Morris had a knife in each hand and grabbed his fiancée, demanding that police leave.

He was sitting on the couch in the living room and had his legs wrapped around her as she sat on the floor facing him, shielding most of his body from police. 

I'm sure I'm going to be a face you hate forever, but I have to live with it, and you have to live with him not being there.- Const. Devon Lee Sterling

Officers drew their Tasers and pistols on Morris, who the five-person jury heard was agitated throughout the 90-minute incident. 

A toxicologist testified that traces of methamphetamine and alcohol were later found in his system. 

Several officers told the jury they felt Morris was suicidal and was attempting to provoke police into killing him — what's commonly referred to as "suicide by cop."

At one point, a non-lethal rifle was brought into the apartment to attempt to subdue Morris, but neither it nor other less-lethal weapons were used because of concerns about their accuracy, officers testified. 

Two negotiators testified they also failed to get Morris to comply. A psychologist was called to the scene but did not arrive in time. 

About 90 minutes into the situation, Morris stretched backwards, as he had several times throughout the morning — but this time Sterling opened fire.

"It came to point I had to do my job and my job was to save [the fiancée], and I felt at that movement he was going to take her life," he testified. 

Police 'escalated everything': mother

After Sterling's testimony, Morris's mother stood up and addressed him, saying her son was a fun, loving and very caring man.

She accused the Regina Police Service of pushing him toward a hostage situation by not being sensitive to Indigenous people and their experiences. 

"A Native is not going to talk to [an] all-white [group]," said the woman, who declined to provide her name when approached by CBC after Tuesday's hearing.

"There have to be Natives, or even Métis people in there to calm a situation. You guys just escalated everything. You pushed it."

Morris was a fun, loving and very caring man, his mother said at the inquest on Tuesday. (Geoff Morris/Facebook)

Sterling told the jury that prior to firing the shot he did think about the optics.

"I was concerned as a Caucasian police officer firing this round into somebody not white and figure I might get judges based on that," he said. 

Looking toward the Morris family, Sterling apologized. 

"It's not what I wanted. I'm sure I'm going to be a face you hate forever, but I have to live with it, and you have to live with him not being there," Sterling said.

"I'm sorry it had to happen, but that was the only thing that had to happen that day. I'm sorry for your loss."

Handcuffed after being shot

Morris fell back on the couch after he was shot, the inquest heard.

Officers in the room rushed toward him, all trying to handcuff him, Sterling said. 

"None of us knew if he was deceased or not," Sterling testified. "I think they thought he was fighting him. He had fallen onto his arms … and several police officers tried to get control of him to arrest him."

The jury heard how Morris wasn't uncuffed until after emergency medical services pronounced him dead on the scene at 7:21 a.m. 

Six days after Sterling fired the fatal shot, he returned to work, taking  just one day off as leave in addition to the five days he was already scheduled to be off.

The inquest, being presided over by coroner Brent Gough, is scheduled to continue until Friday. 

Morris's fiancée is expected to testify later in the week. 

A coroner's inquest is not a criminal trial, but is intended to establish the circumstances that led to the death. The jury can also make recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story identified Devon Lee Sterling as a Regina Police Service constable. In fact, while he was a constable at the time of the shooting, he is now a corporal.
    Aug 13, 2021 12:56 PM CT

now