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What you didn't hear at the Craig McDougall inquest


Craig McDougall was not a nice guy.  He was a violent drunk with a penchant for attacking and hurting women.
But the three police officers who confronted him at his father's home in the early morning of Aug. 2, 2008 didn't know that.  

In the space of 90 seconds or less their interaction escalated to the point where the 26-year-old McDougall was shot three times at point blank range by one of the policemen. He died of his wounds less than an hour later.

Our laws protect the worst in society and upstanding citizens equally. A mandatory inquest is to be called whenever someone dies either at the hands of police or while in police custody. 

An inquest is not a public inquiry, but it is supposed to determine how and why a person died, if there should be any recommendations to prevent the circumstances that led to that death, and, in this case, whether there was any indication that systemic racism on the part of Winnipeg police played any part in the death, given that McDougall was aboriginal.

Ironically given the speed that police shot and killed McDougall, the inquest into his death was mysteriously delayed for eight years.  Yes, EIGHT YEARS.

That alone raises suspicions.  An inescapable question is whether a public airing of what happened that morning was deliberately stalled. And that question leads to "why?" Was it because authorities were hiding something? And if so, what?
Was it...

* the fact that police officers in Winnipeg were provided for a year before the shooting of Craig McDougall, and up to six years afterward, with malfunctioning tasers and the police department knew it?

* that McDougall wasn't the first aboriginal man to be shot "in the line of duty" by the same police officer?  The first died some years later and his family blames his death on complications from the shooting.

* that sources say the policeman who killed McDougall once had his gun taken away until he was cleared by a psychiatrist following allegations made against him by an angry estranged girlfriend. What his wife thought is unknown.

* that the officer who shot McDougall and the officer who shot a taser at him first were witnesses in the prosecution of a policeman charged with kicking an aboriginal man, while the man was in a jail cell, so hard that he suffered a tear to his bowel. One was the partner of the accused and the other was a supervisor who said the arrested man made no complaint to him. The officer was acquitted. That case took SIX YEARS to come to trial.

The eight year delay in getting the Craig McDougall inquest started was so egregious that on the last day the presiding judge felt compelled to apologize to McDougall's father. Yet there was little effort to determine why the process took such an inordinately long time.

The homicide detective in charge of the internal police investigation of the killing of Craig McDougall alone took two whole years to complete his report.  The inquest was told it was because he had to work on other homicides in between.

What nobody pointed out was that Craig McDougall's death WAS a homicide and should have had the same priority as any other police investigation.  What that means is that the detective pre-judged the matter, clearing the police in his mind without fully investigating the circumstances. 

Sergeant Robert Scott Bell, now retired, conceded that the police involved in the shooting got kid-glove treatment while McDougall's family was treated like criminals.  McDougall's father, uncle and a friend were roughed up, hauled to the police station, kept handcuffed for 40 minutes, questioned, videotaped and not told that McDougall was dead for hours.  

The police were advised they had "a right to provide a statement", then turned over to union reps, police and their family as soon as possible.   

"All three provided unsworn written statements three days after the shooting and were never questioned about their statements, Bell testified."   (Winnipeg Free Press)

Bell concluded, naturally, that the police had to shoot Craig McDougall because he refused to drop the knife he was holding as he approached them.

He compounded his breezy approach to the killing of McDougall when he mockingly testified  that the members of McDougall's family were free to leave the police station whenever they wanted since they were witnesses and not under arrest.  

What Bell forgot was that McDougall was shot in 2008 b.c.---before cellphones.  In the past year we've watched time and again the murders of black men in the United States by police officers caught on cellphone video.  

The video evidence often contradicted the official reports which insisted the police had no choice but to shoot and kill men who were (not) armed, we saw police planting weapons near the bodies of men they shot, we saw men shot in the back, men shot walking away and not toward police, men shot as their family members pleaded with police not to shoot. 

These videos have changed the onus of police shootings. 

The public now wants firm proof of what happened, not the carefully orchestrated and lawyered statements of the shooting police officers.  Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn should have known that.  Instead, she didn't even require that the Crown produce Bell's report as evidence.
As a result, we, the public, don't really know what happened that morning on Simcoe Street. 

But a careful reconstruction of the 90 seconds before McDougall was shot indicates a possible scenario that was never discussed, or even contemplated, by the lawyers at the inquest who haven't the slightest concept of what life in the Inner City is like.

Police were sent to 788 Simcoe St. on a call of someone having been stabbed. The first to arrive was a patrol sergeant who testified he went up to the house with his gun out already.  He knocked and a small child answered the door (at 5:09 a.m.) He barely had time to say "Hi" when another person came up behind the little boy. That second he heard a female officer yelling "Male's got a knife, drop the knife."

Just after the sergeant arrived, a cruiser car with two patrol officers---one male, one female--- pulled up.  While the sergeant was at the door, the female officer shone her flashlight around the side of the house to the back and  there she saw Craig McDougall in the alley.  He must have been attracted by the light because he walked from the lane to Simcoe Street.

All three police officers were in the yard and he was separated from them by a fence, indicating he cut through his neighbour's yard not his father's yard. As he rounded the corner of his father's house, the female officer saw he had a knife in his right hand. A reporter described it as  the blade pressed up against his wrist, the tip towards his elbow.
"Knife! Knife! He has a knife!" the policewoman said she yelled.

McDougall was on his cellphone talking with his girlfriend during the whole encounter. She heard male and female voices demanding that McDougall drop a knife, providing proof that he did indeed have the weapon in his hands.  Of course, yelling at someone at the top of your lungs is the best way to communicate, as everyone knows. 

The sergeant ordered the male officer to get his taser out. As McDougall began to enter the yard, he was shot with the taser, which didn't embed itself cleanly and had no effect.  

The inquest was told by one officer that one Taser probe stuck in McDougall's stomach and the other went over his shoulder. Another witness said that the second probe stuck in McDougall's pant leg. Go figure.

Evidence markers were placed on the street outside the yard, suggesting that's where the Taser was used. Evidence was that McDougall was tasered when he was 14 feet away from the police (about the distance to the gate) and shot at 9 feet.

When McDougall entered the yard, he carried the knife at shoulder level, the officer who shot him said.

"I fired my service pistol," he testified. "There was no other option. I was in fear for my life, the other officers lives, the small child and anyone else in the residence."

The question here is did McDougall know the people on his father's doorstep were police?

Where were the police cars parked? In front of the house where they were unmistakeable or off to the side? Were they marked cars? How were the police officers dressed? It was a hot night; McDougall was outside without a shirt. Were the police dressed all in black? What was the lighting like. Does a street light illuminate the front yard? Or was the yard in shadow?

Just because someone yells they're a cop doesn't mean they're a cop. Anyone in the inner city will tell you that. 

Did Craig McDougall see three people dressed in black on his dad's doorstep in the middle of the night and fear they were gang members or thieves?  Did he raise his knife to defend himself from the supposed threat? Remember, it appears he didn't raise the knife until after he was hit by the taser. Was he acting in self-defence?

The answers may lie in the police report of the shooting--- but that's a closely guarded secret. 

The inquest was told that police practice has changed since McDougall was shot.  Nowadays, police are supposed to work hard to "de-escalate" a situation before killing someone.  

We eagerly await the results of an investigation by the Independent Investigation Unit of the newly created Police Commission into the police shooting of Mark Dicesare in November, 2015. Surrounded by 25 police cars following a chase through city streets,  he was blasted by five police officers when he got out of his vehicle.  

The Black Rod has learned that a police dispatcher had informed the chasing police that Dicesare had repeatedly said by cell phone that he was not threatening police and had no intention of harming any of them. 

We wonder how Winnipeg police define the word "de-escalate."

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