The family of an Indigenous New Brunswick man shot dead by police last year says it hopes a coroner’s inquest will answer the many questions surrounding his death.
Rodney Levi was shot dead by the RCMP on June 12, 2020, in Sunny Corner, N.B., after police responded to a complaint about a disturbance in a home.
Prosecutors decided not to charge the officers following an investigation by Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquetes independantes, which cleared the police of wrongdoing after it concluded they believed Levi was using force against them. Quebec’s watchdog was tasked with the probe because New Brunswick doesn’t have an independent police oversight agency.
Levi family lawyer Alisa Lombard said Wednesday there are questions about whether police followed proper protocol the night of the shooting and about the credibility of a witnesses who spoke to watchdog investigators.
The investigation concluded Levi was waiving two large knives and that police used an electroshock weapon on him three times. It said Levi then advanced toward one of the officers and was shot twice. An autopsy confirmed Levi had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his body.
Lombard said Levi was suffering a mental health crisis the night he was killed.
“What struck us was why (the police officers) had to be so close to him to begin with,” she said in an interview. “That gun was drawn well before Rodney took any kind of step.”
Lombard said the family questions whether police followed proper protocol or showed any measure of compassion.
“If you are approaching someone who needs help, who has been saying all day they need help, who was holding knives and was under the influence of methamphetamine, drawing a gun is probably not going to de-escalate the situation,” she said.
The report by New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Services includes a statement from an unnamed witness who said Levi had been staying with her in the days before his death and that he was depressed. She said he had repeatedly discussed “suicide by RCMP.”
Lombard, however, said the family has evidence to the contrary.
“We have information to suggest he wasn’t at that home at all and that person is not known to be a credible person in the community,” she said. “That casts doubt on the investigation from the family’s perspective.”
Lombard said Levi’s family hopes the coroner’s inquest, scheduled for Oct. 4, will help relatives and community members heal from the tragedy. She said the family wants to meet with the officer who fired the gun. “The family is absolutely certain that the shooter is bothered by this. It bothers the family too,” Lombard said.
New Brunswick’s minister for aboriginal affairs said Thursday in a statement she hopes the upcoming inquest reveals more about what happened to Levi and about ways to avoid similar tragedies.
“Although the final events that led to his death may not have been racially motivated, the social systems that he would have come into contact with failed him,” Arlene Dunn said. “These systems are broken.”
“The people who are working in these systems, not the victims, have a responsibility to fix them. The government – and that includes all political parties and all departments – must work together to achieve optimal outcomes for First Nations.”
The Levi case was just one of many across Canada last year that raised questions about how police respond to wellness checks. A wellness check generally involves dispatching an officer to visit someone whose mental health or well-being is a concern. Critics have long suggested nurses or other health professionals should accompany police on similar visits.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021