Several patterns have emerged after the last few Vancouver police witnesses testified at a coroner’s inquest into the death of Myles Gray in August 2015.
The 14 officers who have testified so far have used the same language to describe Gray’s behaviour as police struggled to restrain him, and many told the inquest they were so focused on their own actions, they don’t have clear and complete recollections of what others were doing to restrain the 33-year-old.
Gray died shortly after a beating by several officers that left him with injuries including a fractured eye socket, a crushed voice box and ruptured testicles.
At least five officers testified they followed a direction from their police union not to make handwritten notes in the hours after Gray’s death.
All of them told the inquest they couldn’t recall who the union’s directive came from, although Det. Const. Nick Thompson testified last week that it was passed to him by a superior officer while he was still at the scene where Gray died.
Const. Tiffany Tan testified on Monday that she has been in numerous “dynamic, abnormal” situations working as an officer in the years since Gray’s death, and she has never been told not to make handwritten notes at any other time.
Const. Joshua Wong testified last week that a senior officer acting as a union representative told him not to make notes, a request he thought was “very odd.”
Const. Derek Cain and Det. Const. Beau Spencer also told the inquest that a police union representative told each of the officers not to make handwritten notes.
Const. Chris Bowater testified he did make handwritten notes at the time. He said he was assigned the responsibility of writing as much of a report as he could, and he stayed at the scene for about two hours after Gray’s death.
Several of the officers said they didn’t speak with each other about the particulars of the struggle with Gray in the hours after his death, while two others told the inquest there was some kind of peer-support discussion that evening.
Asked whether he debriefed with any of the other officers involved, Spencer testified Friday that he was “very familiar that we’re not able to speak about specific circumstances, and each individual’s recollection of the event.”
When the officers arrived at police headquarters, “there was actually very little talking, if any, about what each person had done,” Spencer told the inquest.
A lawyer for Gray’s family, Ian Donaldson, also asked Wong last week whether he had spoken to any of the officers present that day by the time he uploaded his statement to the police database some time in early 2016.
Not in relation to the events that day, Wong said.
However, Const. John Gravengard testified Monday that he and other officers he remembers seeing at the scene of Gray’s death had talked about what they experienced and how they felt as they gathered at police headquarters.
Although most of the officers testified that they didn’t speak to each other much, if at all, several of them have used the same terms to describe Gray’s behaviour.
They said he displayed “superhuman” strength and appeared to be in an “animalistic” state, sweating heavily and growling or yelling in an unintelligible way.
Spencer said Gray began to “buck” the officer off him “like at a rodeo with a horse.”
Wong also told the inquest Gray was bucking like a horse as several officers struggled to pin him to the ground and handcuff him.
Two officers, Wong and Cain, also described Gray’s strength, saying he tossed them like a “doll,” despite the fact he wasn’t standing up at the time.
By the time Gray was handcuffed, most officers told the inquest they didn’t notice any signs of injury besides redness in his face and possible body bruising.
However, Spencer testified that Gray’s face had become progressively more swollen throughout the struggle, particularly around his orbital bones.
Gray had been in Vancouver making a delivery to a florists’ supply shop as part of his business on the Sunshine Coast. The initial 911 call was about an agitated man who sprayed a woman with a garden hose, the inquest has heard.
Cain, a former paramedic who said he performed first aid on Gray, testified on Friday that Gray’s symptoms suggested he was experiencing a condition called “excited delirium,” describing it as a life-threatening medical emergency.
Several other officers, including Spencer, Thompson, and Const. Kory Folkestad, testified using that same term to describe Gray’s behaviour.
Earlier in the inquest in Burnaby, B.C., Coroner Larry Marzinzik provided the jury with what he called a “cautionary note” about the term excited delirium.
To his knowledge, Marzinzik said it’s not recognized as a cause of death by most pathologists. The jury members should put less weight on the evidence of a lay person on the topic and would be hearing from a medical expert later, he said.
Personnel from the Burnaby fire department, BC Emergency Health Services, the Independent Investigations Office and others are set to testify later this week.
The jury won’t be able to make findings of legal responsibility at the inquest but may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
—Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press