Vancouver police officers say union representatives instructed them not to take handwritten notes after their fatal 2015 confrontation with Myles Gray, and reviewed their official statements after the fact.
Const. Joshua Wong told the B.C. coroner’s inquest into Gray’s death Thursday (April 20) that he was sitting at the department with his notebook out when a senior member of the force and union representative told him not to make notes.
Wong said the instruction “seemed very odd” to him and went against the department’s policy to get their thoughts down while they’re still fresh, but said he had only been with the force for about a year and followed the person’s direction. Pressed on who the union representative was, Wong told the inquest’s jury he couldn’t remember.
He said he typed up a statement once he got home that night and was instructed months later to upload it into a police database.
Const. Nick Thompson also told the jury Thursday that he was told not to take notes in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death on Aug. 13, 2015. He said he didn’t write an official statement until three days later, after he had seen the department’s psychiatrist. Thompson said up until that point he felt like his mind had left his body and he had been in a state of shock.
He testified that his union representative, who is also a lawyer, reviewed his statement twice and made “minimal” changes before it was submitted. Thompson guessed his review had something to do with the fact that the officers were under investigation by B.C.’s police watchdog.
Indeed, the Independent Investigations Office, relied in part upon those initial statements when it determined whether to recommend criminal charges against any of the officers involved in Gray’s death.
In 2019, the IIO did advise such action should be taken, but the following year the B.C. Prosecution Service said it didn’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any officer used excessive force or committed a criminal offence. The police officers present were the only witnesses to Gray’s death.
He died in the late afternoon of Aug. 13, 2015 after police responded to a “disturbance call” in which Gray reportedly grabbed a garden hose from a woman and sprayed her with water.
The situation escalated quickly as officers reported feeling threatened by Gray’s well-built frame and erratic behaviour. A violent interaction ensued as police attempted to handcuff Gray, with them punching, kicking and beating him with batons, spraying him in the face numerous times with pepper spray and twice putting him in a kind of choke hold.
The testifying officers have told the jury they believed they were in a life or death situation and that Gray both exhibited incredible strength and appeared not to feel pain. He went into cardiac arrest shortly after officers had finally handcuffed him and secured his ankles together with a hobble.
“He turned blue and his lips turned white,” Wong recalled.
He said the officers took off Gray’s handcuffs, flipped him onto his back and started administering CPR. The 33-year-old briefly regained consciousness and starting kicking and flailing and screaming a man’s name, Wong said. Then, Gray fell still and stopped breathing.
A later autopsy revealed Gray had been left with with numerous broken bones in his face, a broken rib, brain bleeding, a ruptured testicle and extensive bruising, but couldn’t determine the exact cause of his death.
Testimony from Gray’s family doctor from earlier in the inquest suggested Gray may have been using testosterone at the time as well.
His sister, Melissa Gray, told the inquest on Monday that her brother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was in high school, but that he hadn’t had an episode in about 15 years prior to his death.
The inquest’s jury is tasked with determining the circumstances of Gray’s death and how to prevent similar ones from happening in the future. It’s job is not to lay blame.
The inquest is scheduled to run until April 28, with more police officers, emergency responders, doctors and IIO representatives expected to testify.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said a toxicology report detected Kratom in Gray’s system. A toxicologist has since testified that was a mistake and that upon review he found Kratom didn’t meet the criteria for detection. This part of the original story has been removed.