Family of slain Norfolk County gunsmith rejects report clearing police
March 10, 2022 By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Mar. 9, 2022, Port Dover, Ont. – Ontario’s police watchdog has concluded there is nothing more to say about the shooting death of Norfolk County gunsmith Rodger Kotanko at the hands of Toronto police.
Kotanko’s family begs to differ.
Two of Kotanko’s siblings and the family’s lawyer cast doubt on the report by the Special Investigations Unit, which last week cleared police of wrongdoing after officers raided Kotanko’s home workshop west of Port Dover on Nov. 3 and shot the 70-year-old four times.
According to search warrant documents, two handguns registered to Kotanko were seized during separate police investigations last year. The serial numbers of the guns had been “professionally” removed with a milling machine, and as Kotanko had not reported the guns stolen or missing, police suspected he was involved in weapons trafficking.
At a press conference outside the family home on Tuesday, Jeff Kotanko and Suzanne Kantor flatly rejected the notion that their brother, a renowned gunsmith and meticulous bookkeeper, was dealing guns on the side.
“Why? He could get $7,000 for one of his guns, easy,” Jeff Kotanko said.
“One of those guns on the street in Toronto ain’t going to get that much money. So why would he bother to do that when he had a lineup of people waiting for him to build them guns? It makes no sense.”
As a licensed gunsmith, Kotanko would have known serial numbers can be restored through forensic analysis – as police say happened in this case – which Kantor said was a further disincentive to break the law.
Police sources told the Toronto Star one of the missing guns was allegedly used to murder 16-year-old Caden Francis in Scarborough last summer. Kantor expressed the family’s condolences but said “the loss of that life was not due to Rodger Kotanko trafficking guns illegally.”
Lawyer Michael Smitiuch criticized Toronto police for “trying to tarnish Rodger’s reputation when he’s not alive to defend it.”
Based on testimony from one of the officers and a customer in the shop, SIU investigators concluded the officer who killed Kotanko did so in self-defence after Kotanko picked up a gun from his workbench and pointed it at police.
The SIU confirmed that the gun Kotanko allegedly picked up was not loaded and was missing parts, but it would have appeared functional to the officers.
“They’re saying he reached for that gun, picked it up and pointed it at an officer who had a gun trained on him with his finger on the trigger. Really?” Jeff Kotanko said.
“He wasn’t Billy the Kid. No one in their right mind would even consider doing that. But they’re expecting us to believe that.”
Smitiuch said by bursting into the shop of a gunsmith, police chose to “create a situation” that led to the “inevitable” outcome of Kotanko being shot and killed, along with “recklessly” endangering the customer who was inside.
Kantor said her brother was hard of hearing and his shop is dimly lit, with a thick front door.
“He probably wouldn’t have heard (police shouting) until they opened the door,” she said. “Then he would have turned around ? and of course he would have had a gun in his hand.”
The family now awaits a coroner’s report and a statement of defence from Toronto police to a $23-million civil lawsuit that accuses officers of “negligent” planning and use of excessive force.
“Too many holes. There’s too many questions why. And we demand answers,” Kantor said.
“We have not found justice yet.”
– The Hamilton Spectator
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