Vancouver cops who shot and killed
homeless man won’t face charges

Tamsyn Burgmann, Canadian Press, Dec. 15, 2009


VANCOUVER, B.C. — When a homeless man began advancing on two police officers brandishing an open utility knife and screaming at them to pull the trigger, one had no other option but to shoot, an investigation into the man’s death has concluded.

Michael Vann Hubbard died on a downtown Vancouver street last March after the single bullet shot in apparent self-defence plunged into his torso.

Following a nine-month review of those actions by the Vancouver Police officers, Abbotsford police announced Tuesday they won’t be recommending criminal charges in the incident that was scrutinized by civil liberties advocates.

“After considering the totality of the circumstances facing the two police officers, notwithstanding that there was a tragic outcome, the officers were justified in using force that was intended or likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death,” Insp. Len Goerke, the lead investigator, said in a written summary of his conclusions.

That finding prompted the Vancouver police chief to deliver a tongue-lashing to those he feels criticized his officers earlier this year, and urged the police union to call for a public apology.

Chief Const. Jim Chu released a statement Tuesday afternoon rebuking “those who stand outside the fray” for their apparent “intent to discredit the Vancouver police.”

Union President Tom Stamatakis, meanwhile, pointed specifically to the head of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, accusing him of “irresponsible” behaviour.

Vancouver police still face a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family, who allege the officers used excessive force. They also filed a complaint against Chu, saying he undermined the investigation by sending an email to staff with conclusions about what happened.

Along with Goerke’s detailed report, police publicly released a 12-minute video taken by two surveillance cameras showing the unfolding incident.

The report says the video is consistent with statements provided by the two officers and the “overwhelming majority” of 82 non-police witnesses.

According to the report, the incident began when the pair of officers spotted Hubbard rummaging through a black knapsack around 10:40 a.m. on March 20, believing he fit the description of a man suspected in theft from a car.

When the officers approached, the 58-year-old became agitated, wielding a utility knife with its six centimetre blade extended in front of his body.

He was swearing and screaming. Some witnesses said they heard him telling the officers to shoot him.

The officers pulled out their pistols and demanded he stop. About two minutes and 30 seconds into the confrontation, Hubbard staggered towards them in a cowboy-like stance.

He took twelve steps forward until he was about three metres from the pair. An officer fired. Hubbard fell.

According to the report, the response was consistent with the officers’ training.

Neither officer carried a Taser to use as an alternative defence and they aren’t trained to use physical force to disarm a suspect, said an Abbotsford police spokesman.

“When a police officer is faced with what is considered to be a lethal-force threat, we are trained to respond with lethal force,” said Const. Ian MacDonald.

In the wake of Hubbard’s death, one witness prompted a flurry of criticism when he alleged an investigator erased cellphone footage he had taken of the shooting. He claimed his video showed the man didn’t advance toward the officers.

Investigators have now requested Adam Smolcic be charged with public mischief.

That prompted Chu’s harsh statement saying that if Smolcic is convicted, Chu wants it noted he didn’t act alone.

Chu didn’t name names though he included “many others in the media” among those who accepted Smolcic’s claims and said they took a “toll” on the relationship between police and the homeless.

“But I would urge those who willingly shoulder the responsibility of public watchdogs to employ their skepticism more widely,” Chu’s statement concluded.

“Then perhaps the people who wish to manipulate you for their own purposes would have a tougher time.”

But union head Stamatakis specifically took David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to task for publicly standing behind Smolcic and allegedly making “unchecked and uninformed public statements.”

Eby defended himself Tuesday, saying the only comments he made at the time were that the allegations against the Vancouver officers needed to be investigated thoroughly.

Smolcic’s phone was sent to three data recovery agencies in an attempt to retrieve the data he said was erased, with none turning up conclusive evidence the incident had been filmed.

“Our goal was simply to get to what happened in that incident, and we didn’t blame Mr. Smolcic for not bringing his phone to the police,” Eby said.

Hubbard, a citizen of the U.S., suffered from chronic schizophrenia, but toxicology tests found no presence of medication for such a condition in his body, the report states.

He arrived in Canada in February 2008 and when he died was wanted on an arrest warrant by Immigration Canada in relation to status in the country.

In their report investigators don’t conclude why Hubbard threatened the officers.

“I don’t know if it’s wrong place at wrong time or how you’d want to classify it,” MacDonald said. “I’m certain that everyone involved would, in retrospect, feel that if there was any possibility to change the way things happened (they would).”