Blue Line

Officer testifies at B.C. inquest into man’s death after police beating

April 18, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 18, 2023, Burnaby, B.C. – The first Vancouver police officer to interact with Myles Gray in an altercation that ended in his death told a British Columbia coroner’s inquest that she feared for her safety and called for backup.

Const. Hardeep Sahota said she was working alone when she was dispatched to a call about a man who had sprayed a woman with a garden hose.

Her testimony marked the first time the public has heard directly from one of the officers involved in the August 2015 incident.

Gray, who was 33, died in Burnaby, B.C., after going into cardiac arrest within an hour of a beating by police that left him with injuries including a fractured eye socket, nose and rib, a crushed voice box and a ruptured testicle.

Sahota said she and two other officers who responded to her call for backup followed Gray into the yard of a home.

She said one of the other officers told Gray to get down on the ground, and when he didn’t, that officer deployed pepper spray.

Sahota testified that one of her colleagues moved to take custody of Gray, grabbing one of his arms, and she followed to control his other arm.

They were holding both of his hands behind his back, she said, and she managed to apply one handcuff before Gray “forcefully freed his arms” and broke away.

Gray pushed an approaching officer, then punched another in the face, she said.

That’s when she and the first officer began striking Gray’s legs with their batons, Sahota said. She testified that she believed she struck Gray three times, as hard as she could, but he “did not feel any pain or there was zero effect.”

After a short struggle, she said one of the officers wrestled Gray to the ground and Sahota applied pressure to one of his arms until additional backup arrived.

Another officer relieved Sahota, who then grabbed a “hobble,” or strap police had applied to immobilize his legs, she said.

One of Sahota’s colleagues accidentally struck her hand with a baton, causing “excruciating pain” as they tried to restrain Gray, who continued to struggle, she said.

Gray was not handcuffed when she left to seek medical attention, she said.

Sahota testified that she couldn’t be sure whether she had participated in mental-health training before the incident, and she had done the best she could in the situation.

Answering a question from a jury member, Sahota said, “You’re never prepared for an incident like this as a police officer,” adding she had feared for herself and had never encountered anything so dangerous in six years of policing.

The inquest also heard a series of police radio transmissions from the time officers and first responders arrived at the scene of the incident.

A female officer could be heard describing a man who was “acting a little aggressive” and who seemed “very intoxicated or very high.”

At one point, a male officer said over the radio they had a plan to “hobble” him.

A request was made for an ambulance, and an officer said, “he’s still fighting.”

Shortly after that, an officer said the man was unconscious and “not responding.”

“If this guy comes to,” an officer said, they would need to sedate him.

The inquest also heard Tuesday from Harjeevan Bansal, who said he lived across the street from the scene and watched as numerous officers ran up to the yard.

He recalled seeing someone whose upper-body movements suggested they were performing chest compressions for CPR, but said his vision was obscured by trees.

He said he was standing beside a man, Muhammed Reza, who testified earlier that he had called police after Gray sprayed his mother with a garden hose.

When it became clear someone had died, Bansal said he saw “a big change in Muhammed’s demeanour.”

Reza told him he shouldn’t have called police and felt “massive guilt,” Bansal testified.

Reza told the inquest he called police because he was scared for his safety and that of the people in his neighbourhood after Gray wandered into the area in south Vancouver, swore at his mother and sprayed her with a nearby garden hose.

He said he ran outside after hearing his mother’s screams and saw Gray, who was shirtless and appeared to be intoxicated or having a “breakdown.”

He said he called police and kept an eye on Gray, who was walking in circles, yelling and at one point ran onto the street and was almost hit by several cars.

“I felt like he needed to get help,” Reza testified.

The inquest began Monday, more than seven years after Gray’s death. About 40 witnesses are expected to testify over 10 days.

The rest of the officers involved are expected to testify over the coming days.

British Columbia’s Prosecution Service declined to approve criminal charges against the officers in 2020, saying they were the only witnesses to the incident.

The Crown could not prove any offence had been committed, the service said, noting the officers had provided incomplete and sometimes inconsistent accounts.

A coroner’s jury can’t make findings of legal responsibility but can make recommendations to prevent future deaths under similar circumstances.

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