TORONTO – A hammer-wielding man who was shot dead by Toronto police two years ago did not need to die, the lawyer representing his family said in pushing for a transformation of police culture and training.
Jonathan Shime told a coroner’s inquest Monday the officers who confronted Andrew Loku at an apartment building in the city opened fire because they panicked and “lost sight of good sense and their training.”
“They shot him because they let their fear of a black man with a hammer (8.5 metres) away overcome what should have been a compassionate and humane response,” Shime said in his closing arguments.
“If only they had let compassion guide them instead of fear, if only they had let good sense and training guide them instead of panic, if only they had followed a multitude of recommendations made by previous inquests, then Andrew would be alive today.”
Six other people interacted with Loku in the hour and minutes before he was fatally shot and all of them were able to calm him down without using a weapon, Shime said.
The inquest, which began June 5, has the opportunity to make recommendations addressing implicit bias and the intersection between race and mental health, he said.
The recommendations proposed by Shime and others involved in the inquest include having police collect data – such as perceived race, gender, and whether the person was believed to be in crisis – about every incident in which officers use force, while respecting privacy laws.
They also propose to have the police chief conduct a structural review and analysis to ensure the force has a clear policy on serving and protecting racialized people and those with mental-health issues, and reinforce it through continuous training.
Other proposed recommendations would have police expand and improve their training on de-escalation, implicit bias and racism towards black people, and require officers to prove their qualifications in that area on an annual basis.
Some lawyers suggested officers may simply not be retaining the training they currently receive.
“In stressful situations, the de-escalation training isn’t kicking in,” said Breese Davies, who represents the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto chapter.
“Either the training is inadequate, or the officers aren’t absorbing it, or a combination of both,” said Howard Morton, lawyer for Across Boundaries, an organization that provides mental health services to racialized communities in Toronto.
Peter Brauti, who represents the Toronto Police Association, asked that any training recommendation not pull officers off the streets during their shifts.
He also proposed that the jury recommend equipping front-line officers with stun guns such as Tasers, suggesting that could have saved Loku’s life.
The lawyer representing the Toronto Police Services Board, meanwhile, took issue with what he deemed attempts to turn the inquest into an “us vs the police” situation, saying everyone values life and understands the need for de-escalation.
Loku’s death in July 2015 sparked days of protest from the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The inquest has heard from the officer who fired the fatal shots, who testified he feared for his life after finding Loku holding a hammer in the hallway of an apartment building.
Const. Andrew Doyle said he fired twice when Loku started walking towards him and his partner with the hammer raised.
Ontario’s police watchdog previously found that the officer who shot Loku did not exceed the range of justifiable force.