The family of a man who died after Vancouver police used a beanbag shotgun on him want answers about why he was shot and not helped when in distress.
Chris Amyotte, a Manitoba Anishinaabe man of Rolling Rover First Nation, was in Vancouver visiting his daughter last month.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) said they responded on Aug. 22 to reports of a man acting erratically near East Hastings Street and Dunlevy Avenue. Police said the man was taken into custody but then went into medical distress and lost consciousness and died at the scene.
Sgt. Steve Addision with VPD said a beanbag shotgun had been used.
“It is used as an alternative to lethal force and can be deployed against a person who is acting violently or displaying assaultive behaviour,” Addison said in a statement.
Police have yet to name Amyotte but have said the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is investigating. The IIO is called in when there are police-involved incidents that result in death or harm.
On Sept. 1, Amyotte’s cousin, Samantha Wilson, said witnesses told her the father-of-seven had been bear sprayed and was asking for help before police arrived. Amyotte was unarmed.
“He wasn’t acting erratically,” she said. “He was asking for help. What he needed was medical help. Instead, he was shot.”
Wilson added her family is struggling to understand why his life “had to end that way.”
She called the family’s pain the result of a “split-second decision by a police officer to pull the trigger six times.”
“I’d like an explanation for myself and my family,” she said. “It’s our duty to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.”
Wilson said the family has yet to hear anything from police or the IIO on what is happening in the investigation into the death.
“The system needs transformative change,” she said. “How can Indigenous people have faith in police and the justice system when it is literally killing our people?”
The IIO, however, said its primary investigator and affected persons liaison assigned to the case have reached out to and spoken directly with several members of Amyotte’s family. The IIO said that included initiating contact immediately on the day of his death, and continuing contact on several subsequent occasions.
It said such communication is a standard and integral part of the IIO’s role.
Addison has said police believed the man who died “did ask for help from a number of bystanders, who did not offer assistance.”
He said witnesses had reported there had been some form of confrontation.
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples national vice-chief Kim Beaudin told Glacier Media there needs to be a federal inquiry into police brutality involving Indigenous people.
“I believe [police] are lying to cover their rear ends,” Beaudin said. This should never have happened. This should be a murder investigation.”
In the Amyotte case, Beaudin said he’d like to see an inquiry similar to the one that followed the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
Dziekanski too was described as acting erratically before RCMP arrived. He was Tasered multiple times before he died in the international arrivals hall.
That inquiry, headed by Justice Thomas Braidwood, concluded officers weren’t justified in using a Taser on Dziekanski. He also found the officers later deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators.
Beaudin added he’d like to see a coroner’s inquest into Amyotte’s death, but said the family doesn’t have much faith in that process.
The IIO said Aug. 26 that only limited information can be released as the investigation is in its early stages “to ensure the integrity of the IIO’s investigation is preserved and because the facts must be independently verified by IIO investigators.
“In particular, the IIO must avoid making information public that may impact how witnesses recall the incident before they can be interviewed,” the statement said.
The IIO said the BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the death.