Toronto's 89th murder victim was part of 'Neptune 4' unlawful arrest case, sources say

The city's latest murder victim, Yohannes Brhanu, was at the centre of a high-profile case against Toronto Police Service for the unlawful arrest of a group of black teenagers in 2011, CBC News has learned.

Yohannes Brhanu, 22, was among 4 black teens in violent confrontation with officers in 2011

Yohannes Brhanu, 22, was shot to death overnight Wednesday in Toronto's north end, marking the city's 89th homicide this year. (Toronto Police Service)

The city's latest murder victim, Yohannes Brhanu, was at the centre of a high-profile case against Toronto Police Service for the unlawful arrest of a group of black teenagers in 2011, CBC News has learned.

Brhanu, 22, who was shot in the early morning hours Wednesday in Toronto's north end, was the city's 89th homicide victim this year — tying a grim record set in 1991. 

He was also one of four young men arrested in the so-called "Neptune Four" incident on Nov. 21, 2011 involving two Toronto police officers who have been accused of misconduct. 

The officers, Const. Adam Lourenco and Const. Sharnal Pais, approached the group of black teens in an unmarked police van in the city's north end. They were walking outside a Lawrence Heights public housing complex on Neptune Drive, located in the area of Highway 401 and Allen Road, where they lived.

They asked for identification — a controversial practice known as carding — and testified during a police disciplinary hearing that they believed the teens matched the description of robbery suspects.

The youths, aged 15 and 16, were headed to a neighbourhood mentorship program offered by Pathways to Education when they were stopped. One of the boys asked if they were under arrest and when told no, tried to leave. 

Less than two minutes later, a Toronto Community Housing security video showed one of the officers punch the youth in the stomach and head until he fell. The teen's twin brother and two friends then got involved. The altercation ended with one constable drawing his firearm and arresting the group at gunpoint. 

The criminal charges against the four teens were later dropped after the surveillance video surfaced. 

Two of four young men arrested by Toronto police in 2011 as teens have spoken to the CBC's Dwight Drummond about their ordeal. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Seven years later, the case is still being heard by the Toronto Police Service Tribunal.

Both officers are charged with unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority under the Police Services Act, and Lourenco is facing an additional two counts of discreditable conduct. They are from the now-disbanded Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) unit and have both pleaded not guilty. 

The teens have also filed a civil lawsuit against the officers, each seeking $100,000 in damages.

Brhanu was the intended target, detective says

Brhanu was shot to death in a car that was parked on Ann Arbour Road in the area of Albion and Weston roads.

Evidence suggests he was the intended target, homicide Det.-Sgt. Mike Carbone said during a Wednesday news conference.

Brhanu was found without vital signs inside the vehicle, sitting beside a loaded gun that was never fired, investigators said. He was rushed to a trauma centre where he later died. 

"Normally we wouldn't talk about the victim being armed, but in this case we both feel it's extremely relevant to disclose the amount of firepower there was on a quiet residential street. It's alarming to us," Acting Insp. Hank Idsinga told reporters, noting at least four firearms — most likely handguns — were used in the fatal attack. 

"We're getting a lot more guns off the street than we ever have and yet the shootings keep on happening."

Between 10 and 20 bullets were found along Ann Arbour Road where Yohannes Brhanu was fatally shot inside a car in the early hours of Wednesday morning. (CBC)

Brhanu was in the driver's seat with another person as a passenger when a vehicle, "that appears to have some association with the deceased," approached from the opposite direction and stopped, Carbone said. Then, a third unknown vehicle drove up and parked beside the driver's side of Brhanu's car. Its occupants fired multiple shots at him. 

Meanwhile, occupants in the second vehicle exchanged fire in what Carbone characterized as a "gun battle" that forced the third vehicle to flee. 

He estimated between 10 to 20 bullets were fired. 

One person was arrested in the case, but was later released without charges, Carbone said, adding at this point in the investigation there's no information to suggest any violent retaliation will follow this shooting.

Police haven't released information about possible suspects or a description of the vehicle that fled.