TORONTO – The police killing of a black father of five who was holding a hammer in an apartment building two years ago was a homicide, an inquest jury ruled Friday in a case infused with allegations of racism.
The coroner’s inquest verdict carries no criminal or civil liability, but the jury also made 39 recommendations, including several aimed at officer training, especially with regard to both overt and subconscious racist attitudes.
They also recommended police hone their skills in dealing with people like Andrew Loku, who had mental-health issues when he was shot.
Jonathan Shime, who represented the Loku family, said outside coroner’s court that he was pleased with the jury’s approach.
“The reality is a disproportionate number of black men are dying at the hands of the police,” Shime said. “It’s time for that to stop.”
The July 2015 shooting of Loku, 45, which sparked days of protests by the group Black Lives Matter, was an unnecessary tragedy, Shime said. Police, he said, had no reason to resort to deadly force.
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The inquest under Dr. John Carlisle heard how six people had interacted with Loku, whom neighbours described as a sweet man, in the run-up to the shooting.
They said they had been able to calm him down and he was on the verge of giving up the hammer he was holding when police – responding to a 911 call about a drunk, angry man – raced into his apartment building and confronted him.
VIDEO: Toronto police officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku 2 years ago takes stand at Coroner’s inquest
Within about 20 seconds of their arrival, Const. Andrew Doyle fired twice, hitting Loku on the left side of the chest. Doyle testified he fired because he feared for his life when Loku, hammer raised, started walking towards him and his partner in a hallway.
Shime, however, argued the officers panicked, in part because Loku was black.
“I don’t think Andrew needed to die,” Shime said. “There were a number of failings with respect to the training and the handling of this situation that precipitated his death.”
In an inquest setting, the term homicide is used when jurors find a person has killed another. It is a neutral term that does not reflect culpability or blame.
Ontario’s police watchdog found that Doyle, who admitted to having almost no experience interacting with black men, was justified in his use of force and no criminal charges were laid.
Among the recommendations the jury made was one to have police measure the effectiveness of training related to “anti-black racism and persons in crisis” by way of written and oral examinations. Officers should also be tested for implicit racial bias, the jury said.
The four-woman, one-man jury also recommended equipping more front-line officers with stun guns or other less lethal weapons to provide an alternative to guns.
Recommendations directed at the provincial government included one to update standards for de-escalation, crisis communication, and outcomes of current police response to persons in crisis.
A smattering of applause erupted among spectators in the courtroom after Carlisle thanked the jurors and closed the inquest.
Kingsley Gilliam, with the Black Action Defence Committee, called the jury recommendations “inspiring.”
“They recognized that anti-black racism, racism and institutional racism are problems and that racism permeates society,” said Gilliam, who called Loku’s death “an execution.”
Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, also with the defence committee, said the black community would be watching to ensure the recommendations are implemented. If not, he said, legal action and further protests are in the cards.
Pieters also decried what he called the stereotyping of black men as aggressive and violent.
“When you stereotype black people, particularly men that way, it is more likely to lead to very unfortunate outcomes for black men,” Pieters said.