VANCOUVER – A coroner’s jury looking into the death of 26-year-old Angus Mitchell has released seven recommendations, including that the B.C. Health Ministry consider allowing people to force a mentally ill family member to undergo a psychiatric assessment.
Mitchell was killed in a hail of police gunfire in May last year. The shooting came just hours after RCMP had issued a warning that the man was the chief suspect in the murders of two people and the shooting injury of his landlord.
During a week of testimony, the jury heard from several witnesses including Mitchell’s father. David Mitchell told the inquest that his son, who was a straight-A student in Vernon, B.C., began showing signs of mental illness as early as Grade 7.
“So we took him to a child psychiatrist, and (the doctor) suggested this was nothing unusual. It wasn’t all that rare, it was a passing phase and nothing we should worry about,” David Mitchell told the jury.
Mitchell began dabbling with drugs when he was a teenager, David Mitchell said. Then he started stealing, and had various run-ins with police.
Despite his father registering him in treatment programs and counselling services, Mitchell’s behaviour did not improve.
The father told the jury that had the family been able to force Angus to get a psychiatric assessment, it’s possible the deaths could have been avoided.
The coroner’s jury has suggested that a study be conducted to look at the feasibility of allowing people to request a psychiatric assessment of a family member even if that family member resists.
Another key recommendation is that all gun licence applications include a consent for releasing medical information. It also suggested improving the accessibility and accuracy of police databases.
In 2011, Mitchell applied for a firearms licence. Terry Hamilton, chief firearms officer for B.C. and Yukon, said her office approved the application even though Mitchell had police complaints lodged against him, including threatening a former employer and getting into a confrontation with a landlord.
“We did not have enough to indicate a history of violence or any convictions that were related to violence,” she told the jury.
Since Mitchell did not disclose a history of mental illness or substance abuse in his application, and he had never been apprehended under the Mental Health Act, the office did not delve further into his medical history.
In February 2012, an incident at a doctor’s clinic piqued the interest of Victoria police Const. Lane Douglas-Hunt while she was on patrol with her partner.
“A (call) comes up from our dispatch saying Saanich PD had dealt with a male at a walk-in clinic that had a rifle-carrying case,” she testified.
After checking Mitchell’s record and speaking to his landlord about a bizarre note where Mitchell had requested his belongings be thrown in the garbage if he gets incarcerated or dies, Douglas-Hunt decided to take action.
A team of officers showed up outside Mitchell’s apartment that night. Mitchell opened the door to find Douglas-Hunt armed with a non-lethal gun, her partner with a rifle.
“He was just wearing boxers, had no shirt,” Douglas-Hunt said. “He had a knife tucked down his boxers which I found odd.”
At Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital, Mitchell was assessed by psychiatrist Brent Gould.
Gould discharged the man, as Mitchell’s explanation for the doctor clinic incident seemed reasonable. Gould said he did not have access to Mitchell’s past medical records because they were from a different region of the province.
The jury also recommended better reporting on Mental Health Act apprehensions that involve a firearm. It also suggested that physicians should try their best to contact family or friends for information on a patient’s mental health status.
The firearms officer put Mitchell’s licence on hold, but two months later, released the hold.
Mitchell got his rifle back and in May 2012, he travelled to Metro Vancouver.
Police say he killed two people at a Burnaby sushi restaurant with the weapon, then shot and wounded his former landlord.
A massive manhunt for Mitchell ensued.
On May 30, police surrounded the man in a rural area in Maple Ridge after being tipped off by a civilian witness.
Mitchell shot at the officers after emerging from his van, and they returned fire. He was shot at least 10 times in the chest, back and pelvic area.
A investigation by the Vancouver Police Department determined that officers weren’t at fault for the shooting and a video from above the scene showed that Mitchell shot at police first.
Police said after Mitchell’s death that he had a detailed hit list including businesses, schools and a group home in Metro Vancouver.