TORONTO – A Toronto police officer who fatally shot a hammer-wielding man in the city two years ago said Wednesday he was “devastated” by the confrontation’s grim conclusion, though he maintained he had no choice but to open fire.
Const. Andrew Doyle was testifying at a coroner’s inquest into Andrew Loku‘s death and addressed the man’s relatives, who weren’t present, directly at one point.
“This entire event was an absolute tragedy for everyone involved,” he said from the witness stand. “This is not the result that anybody wanted, especially me. I am absolutely devastated by this and I’m sorry that this was the end result of the situation that I was involved in.”
The officer’s testimony was his first time speaking publicly about his role in Loku’s death, an incident that had sparked days of protest from the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The inquest – which could result in a coroner’s jury making recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths – heard that a woman called 911, saying Loku had threatened to kill her friend.
Doyle testified that he and his partner responded to the call and arrived to find Loku in an apartment building hallway shortly after midnight on July 5, 2015.
The officer recalled drawing his gun and pointing it at Loku after spotting the man holding a hammer.
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Doyle said he shouted at Loku – who he called by name only once throughout his testimony – repeatedly to drop his weapon but then fired twice when the man, who was about 7.5 metres away, started walking towards him and his partner with the hammer raised.
“I was afraid for my life,” Doyle told the inquest. “We’re trained to stop the threat. Two rounds stops the threat. He immediately fell to the ground. There was no need for anything else.”
Asked whether he could have shot Loku’s arm or leg instead, Doyle said police training called for officers to aim for the “centre mass.”
He also said using another weapon, such as a baton or pepper spray, would not have been enough, and he was not carrying a stun gun at the time.
Some observers at the inquest wiped their eyes as they heard the officer describe the events that led to Loku’s death.
Doyle himself briefly appeared emotional as he recalled the moments after the shooting. “I believe I was in a state of shock,” he said, his voice cracking.
“It felt like time was standing still,” until other officers arrived at the scene, he said.
Doyle said Loku collapsed almost like a felled tree after being shot and the hammer the man was holding bounced towards the officer, who kicked it away.
At the time, the constable recalled, his concern was to ensure that Loku wasn’t carrying another weapon.
“Then I noticed blood pooling, a lot,” he said.
The lawyer representing Loku’s family pressed Doyle on why he didn’t take a different approach when it became clear that shouting at Loku wasn’t effective.
Doyle could have changed his tone or backed up onto the landing at the end of the hall and closed the door to contain Loku, as had been demonstrated in a training scenario the officer observed, Jonathan Shine suggested.
But the constable said he never considered that option and in fact wasn’t aware that there was a door, nor did he believe there was time for such a strategy.
Shine said surveillance video suggests only 21 seconds went by between the moment Loku turned towards the officers and when he was shot – time the officer “spent doing nothing but screaming at Mr. Loku.”
Ontario’s police watchdog has found that the officer who shot Loku did not exceed the range of justifiable force.
The Special Investigations Unit said the officers had their guns drawn and repeatedly told Loku to drop the hammer as he walked towards them, but he was shot twice when he came within two or three metres of one officer.
After the SIU’s findings were released last year, the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter camped out in front of Toronto police headquarters for days and marched on the provincial legislature to call for an overhaul of Ontario’s police watchdog and the release of the name of the officer who shot Loku.
The inquest into Loku’s death began June 5 and is expected to hear from approximately 20 witnesses.