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Vancouver police officer tells inquest he punched Myles Gray as hard as he could

Click to play video: 'Coroner’s jury examines final moments of Myles Gray’s life'
Coroner’s jury examines final moments of Myles Gray’s life
Three Vancouver police officers who were the first to confront Myles Gray on Aug. 13, 2015 have all testified at the inquest into the 33-year-old man's death. They described Gray as combative and explained, sometimes in agonizing detail, the measures they took to subdue him. But as Emad Agahi reports, questions remain – Apr 19, 2023

A Vancouver police officer told a British Columbia coroner’s jury that he punched Myles Gray in the head as hard as he could several times because he didn’t think anything else would work to subdue the man, other than shooting him.

Const. Kory Folkestad testified on the third day of the inquest into Gray’s death nearly eight years ago following a beating by several officers that left him with injuries including a fractured eye socket, a crushed voice box and a ruptured testicle.

Click to play video: 'Inquest hears from first officer about death of Myles Gray'
Inquest hears from first officer about death of Myles Gray

Folkestad told the jury in Burnaby, B.C., that he and his partner were both in plain clothes when they responded to a call for immediate assistance from a uniformed officer on the day Gray died in August 2015.

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Folkestad’s partner, Const. Eric Birzneck, later testified that he had initially talked to Gray in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, but Gray’s demeanour changed.

Gray put his head down and “he started coming at me,” Birzneck told the inquest.

That’s when Birzneck deployed pepper spray, he said, and the struggle to wrestle Gray to the ground and apply handcuffs ensued. Gray displayed “surges of incredible strength” as the officers tried to restrain him, Birzneck told the jury in Burnaby, B.C.

Click to play video: 'No timeline for disciplinary investigation into actions of VPD officers at Myles Gray inquest'
No timeline for disciplinary investigation into actions of VPD officers at Myles Gray inquest

Birzneck said he now works as a use-of-force training officer and at the time of Gray’s death he had been a trained crisis negotiator. That training dealt “quite heavily” with mental health related calls, he said.

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Birzneck told the inquest that he thought mental health, drugs, or a combination of both potential factors were affecting Gray’s behaviour. He said he was also trained to use pepper spray, a baton, a long rifle, his handgun and a device that shoots rubber bullets, when in a crowd-control situation.

On that day in 2015, Birzneck had his gun, a baton and pepper spray, he said.

Folkestad testified earlier Wednesday that he and Birzneck were both in plain clothes when they responded to a call for immediate assistance from a uniformed officer.

When the trio of officers found Gray in a yard, Folkestad said he believed Gray wanted to fight them and at one point he “tensed every part of his body” and roared.

“All of a sudden, he just ripped his arms out from us and squared off with us with a speed and strength I couldn’t believe,” Folkestad said.

Folkestad, who told the jury he has been diagnosed with PTSD because of the incident, said he struck Gray in the face multiple times as hard as he could.

“I didn’t think anything else would work at the time and we would have to shoot him,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Family demands justice at Myles Gray inquest'
Family demands justice at Myles Gray inquest

At one point during the confrontation, the officer said he was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, Folkestad said he tried to control one of Gray’s legs before additional officers arrived and he was taken for medical attention.

Folkestad told the jury that when he first saw Gray he believed the 33-year-old was experiencing “excited delirium,” something he said makes people unpredictable with “superhuman strength.”

Before the officer’s testimony, coroner Larry Marzinzik provided the jury with what he called a “cautionary note” about the term. Marzinzik said, to his knowledge, excited delirium is not recognized as a cause of death by most pathologists and “there is still some discussion within the medical community over its relevance” as a cause of death.

The jury members should put less weight on the evidence of a lay person on the topic and would be hearing from a medical expert later, he said.

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A statement from the BC Coroners Service said it no longer recognizes “excited delirium” as a cause of death in its investigations, saying the decision “was made in response to the evidence-based literature changing over time.”

It said that position aligns with that of the World Health Organization, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and others who agree it’s “not a diagnosis (or) cause of death but more of a conglomeration of signs and symptoms.”

Several other officers with the Vancouver Police Department are expected to testify at the inquest scheduled over 10 days.

The BC Prosecution Service said in 2020 that charges would not be approved against the officers, saying it couldn’t prove an offence had been committed.

The jury won’t be able to make findings of legal responsibility at the inquest but may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Click to play video: 'New details on Vancouver police officers in Myles Gray case'
New details on Vancouver police officers in Myles Gray case

The first officer to interact with Myles testified Tuesday.

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Const. Hardeep Sahota and told the inquest she wasn’t thinking about mental health and instead believed intoxication was driving Gray’s “bizarre” behaviour. Sahota she called for backup because she feared for her safety, and it was another officer who used pepper spray on Gray before he punched a third officer in the face.

Sahota said they wrestled Gray to the ground and hobbled his legs before she left to get medical attention for her hand, which another officer had accidentally struck with a baton in the struggle.

Speaking with Global News, Margie Gray accused police officers who interacted with her son on the day of his death of having “no de-escalation plan.”

“They didn’t even say he’s under arrest. They didn’t tell my son Myles why he was there,” she said. “There were many, many times they could have de-escalated.”

She noted that Sahota told the inquest that Gray had asked for a drink of water — a missed opportunity to bring some calm to the situation.

“It’s very easy to spot their nervous body language,” Margie said, of watching the officers testify about Gray’s death.

“It would be nice to hear some remorse. Yesterday, Sahota didn’t even say my son’s name.”

— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey and The Canadian Press’ Brenna Owen

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