Coroner investigating death of man during police interaction

Independent Investigations Office clears Vancouver police in two incidents involving force

The B.C. Coroners Service has announced an inquest into the death of a 28-year-old man who died of an apparent self-inflicted knife wound after an interaction with Vancouver police officers in July 2011.

Barb McLintock, spokesperson for the coroners service, said the reason for the inquest into Kyle Martin Vandendberg’s death is because the man allegedly harmed himself at his home while police were on scene.

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Coroner Liana Wright and a jury will hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts surrounding Vandenberg’s death. He was taken to Vancouver General Hospital but died shortly after being admitted July 16, 2011.

Vancouver police did not issue a public release after the incident. Const. Brian Montague, a VPD media liaison officer, said “we would not normally issue a release for an incident where someone took their own life.”

While the jury may not, by law, make any findings of legal responsibility, it can make recommendations “aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future,” according to a statement from the coroners service.

The inquest is scheduled to begin March 31, 2014.

Vandenberg’s death occurred prior to the provincial government setting up the Independent Investigations Office, which has a mandate in B.C. to investigate incidents related to serious injury or death involving police.

Since the office opened in September 2012, it has investigated 15 cases involving the VPD. Of the cases closed by the office, none has resulted in Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal recommending charges to Crown counsel.

Rosenthal released two reports this week in which he cleared the VPD in incidents that occurred July 31 and Aug. 25. The incident in July related to an emergency response team member firing rubber bullets from an Arwen gun that struck the hand and buttocks of a man in distress at a shelter.

“The presence of the Arwen device was a clear attempt by ERT members to avoid using lethal force or force that would cause serious or permanent injury to the affected person while attempting to take him into custody,” Rosenthal wrote in his report.

“Police officers have many different use of force options available to them and they have discretion to determine which tool is the most reasonable to use depending on the totality of the circumstances. I cannot conclude, based on the evidence available to me, that the decision to use the Arwen device was anything other than a legally acceptable use of force.”

The incident in August was investigated after a 61-year-old woman complained she suffered a hip injury on a street corner while police arrested a man outside a pub in the Downtown Eastside.

The woman, who was using a walker, told investigators she felt “someone’s weight against her” and fell to the ground. She didn’t know how it happened because her back was turned to the officers.

The officers involved told investigators that the woman complained of her injury after an officer pushed a man to the ground. The officer in question said he saw the woman lying on her back on the ground after the push. But, he added, he “did not realize she was involved and did not know how she ended up being injured.”

The officer said he was pushed by the man, whom he described as “very agitated and very aggressive.” The man also struck the officer, launching his phone into the middle of the road, the report said.

“Based on the evidence obtained during the course of this [independent investigations office] investigation, I do not consider that any of the involved police officers may have committed an offence in relation to the injury that was sustained by the affected person,” Rosenthal said. “Therefore, the [office] will take no further action in relation to this case.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

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