Toronto

Coroner calls inquest into death of man shot by police in entertainment district in 2015

The circumstances surrounding the death of a 21-year-old man shot dead by police in Toronto's entertainment district two years ago will be probed by a coroner's inquest.

Kwasi Skene-Peters, 21, was wanted in connection with a double-murder when he was killed

Toronto police had a Canada-wide warrant out for Skene-Peters, who was wanted in connection with a double murder, when he was shot and killed. (Toronto Police Services)

The circumstances surrounding the death of a 21-year-old man fatally shot by police in Toronto's entertainment district two years ago will be probed by a coroner's inquest.

Dr. James Edwards, regional supervising coroner for Central Region, Toronto East office, announced Wednesday that an inquest will be held into the death of Kwasi Skene-Peters.

Toronto police had a Canada-wide warrant out for Skene-Peters, who was wanted in connection with a double murder when he was shot and killed on July 25, 2015.

Skene-Peters was one of two suspects in the deaths of two men on June 28, 2015 in a condo unit near Lisgar Street and Queen Street West. The other suspect surrendered to police and was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Following his death, an investigation by Ontario's police watchdog said that when police learned that Skene-Peters would be at Tryst nightclub that night, several officers were sent to the club to set up surveillance. The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) was also enlisted to provide "additional officer support" and members were parked in a alleyway nearby.

'Never heard anything like that in my life'

Skene-Peters was in a car in a parking lot outside Tryst Nightclub around 3 a.m. when, according to the Special Investigations Unit, a vehicle driven by a civilian stopped in front of Skene-Peters's car, boxing him in.

The SIU's report says that's when several police officers converged on the vehicle shouting commands at Skene-Peters, including "Freeze. Don't move, "Put your hands up," and, "You're under arrest."

A witness who spoke with CBC Toronto at the time said about 20 to 30 shots were fired and that he didn't hear police make any demands before opening fire. 

Mohamed Abdiwal Dirie, left, and Abdiwel Abdullahi, both 26 of Toronto, were shot dead in a condo building near West Queen West in June 2015. Kwasi Skene-Peters was wanted for two counts of first-degree murder in connection with their deaths. (Toronto Police Service)

"I never really heard anything like that in my life so we just ran, that's the first thing we did," said the man, who did not want his name published.

The SIU investigation into Skene-Peters's death found the firefight lasted approximately four seconds.

During that time, the SIU said, two shots were fired from inside Skene-Peters's vehicle while police were yelling — one of which, the report said, went through the windshield towards three officers.

It was after that, the investigation found, that the two officers who later became the subjects of the SIU investigation, returned fire, prompting Skene-Peters to flee his vehicle and run towards Peter Street.

The police watchdog would later find that the two were acting in self-defence and were legally justified in shooting the 21-year-old.

In the process of fleeing, the SIU report said, Skene-Peters tripped over a man who had fallen to the ground and was then arrested. That, the report said, is when police discovered him suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Officers declined to participate in investigation

The bullet went straight through the right ventricle of Skene-Peters's heart. He was pronounced dead a short time later in hospital.

"Given the fact that the officers in this case were acting on the basis of a valid arrest warrant, the only issue that I need to consider is whether the shooting was justified in the circumstances. The evidence establishes that it was," SIU director Tony Loparco said in the report.

"Mr. Skene-Peters shot at the police officers first ... He triggered this dangerous event in the middle of the downtown Toronto entertainment district."

Both of the officers involved in the shooting declined to participate in the SIU's investigation, as is their legal right, the report stated.

The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths, the province's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said in a release.