Peel police Chief Jennifer Evans named in $21M lawsuit alleging she interfered in shooting probe
Complainant Suzan Zreik alleges chief promised her a career in policing
A 23-year-old woman hit in the back by a stray police bullet alleges Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans came to her hospital bed hours later promised to pave the way for her career in law enforcement.
The allegation is contained in a $21-million lawsuit filed against Evans, the Regional of Peel Police Services Board and all of the officers involved in the shooting on March 20, 2015 that left Suzan Zreik with a bullet lodged near her spine.
Her statement of claim outlines her version of that night's events: it alleges officers denied her timely access to medical care, kept her parents from seeing her in hospital, and tried to coerce her into clearing Peel Regional Police officers of any wrongdoing.
Zreik, then a second-year college student in police foundations, had been standing in her family's kitchen when a bullet pierced her family's window. Police had been responding to a call at a neighbour's home when they started shooting.
In the statement's depiction of the events, it also alleges that investigators brought Zreik to the police station less than 12 hours after she was shot, wearing only sweatpants and a hospital gown, high on morphine and a with a bullet still lodged two centimetres from her spine.
They were "trying to take advantage of her and have her agree to things on video while she was in a highly vulnerable state," the lawsuit says.
No statement of defence yet
The lawsuit was filed in Brampton court on Friday and the claims contained within have not been proven in court. Those in Ontario named in the suit have 20 days to file a statement of defence.
Ontario's SIU — which investigates all cases of death or serious injury involving police — cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Marc Ekamba-Boekwa and in their injury of Zreik.
In its investigation, the SIU found that Ekamba-Boekwa wounded two officers with a knife during a struggle when they showed up to his mother's home at Queen Frederica Drive in Mississauga.
He resisted arrest and began yelling at the officers, still holding the knife, the SIU found. When he ignored orders to stop, officers fired 19 shots.
Eight of the bullets missed him, both the SIU investigation and the statement of claim agree. In one case, a rookie constable shot her training officer in the back, but he suffered only bruising because he was wearing body armour, the lawsuit reads.
The other seven bullets sprayed the busy residential complex, according to the statement of claim.
Zreik's mother ran out to tell police they had shot her daughter, but the officers "aggressively denied having shot" the young woman and told her mother she must be mistaken, the lawsuit reads.
When officers came to look at Zreik, they called 911 but directed arriving paramedics to instead tend to injured officers first, the court documents say.
The lawsuit alleges that when she was taken to hospital, police posted a guard outside her door and prevented her family from seeing her. Hours later, the chief arrived, it says.
"She assured my client that she would do anything she could to help her out and gave her a business card with a cell number on it," Zreik's lawyer, Michael Moon said in an interview Friday. "A short time later, a police officer ... told her he'd been ordered by the chief to take her to 12 Division to question her."
Moon said the chief interfered in what should have been an SIU investigation in order to preserve the probe's independence.
"To me it would suggest that the SIU had not been informed by Peel Regional Police about the seriousness or the extent of Ms. Zreik's injuries, which in and of itself is a breach of their statutory obligations under the Police Services Act."
Investigators with the police watchdog did not interview Zreik until three days after she was shot.
A news release sent out by the SIU on March 21 said they were investigating the fatal shooting of Marc Ekamba-Boekwa, who had been inside the Queen Frederica Drive home to which police were called on March 20.
The province's civilian police watchdog sent out a subsequent note on March 27, noting that they were also investigating how the officers' actions led to Zreik's shooting.
Zreik underwent surgery to have the bullet removed from her back in April 2015. She now walks with a cane and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, the statement says.
Peel Regional Police spokesman Sgt. Josh Colley said he could not comment on the case when contacted Friday.