Laura Kane (Vancouver Sun) – A year after Langley RCMP officers shot Alvin Wright to death in a bedroom during a call to a domestic dispute, Vancouver police are still investigating.
No details have been released about the circumstances that led to the Aug. 6, 2010, shooting or about the officers involved.
And the lawyer for Wright’s family says that’s too long.
“For there to be confidence in even the finest police forces, there has to be openness and there has to be accountability, and so far we have neither,” said Donald Sorochan.
“There were only three people in the room, and one of them is dead, and the other two are police officers.”
The case follows a number of lengthy high-profile investigations into police-involved deaths in B.C. An internal RCMP investigation into the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007 took eight months to complete, but the ensuing Braidwood inquiry did not end until 2010.
A recent Vancouver police department investigation into the RCMP shooting death of a North Vancouver man in January 2010 took a year and a half to complete.
B.C. Civil Liberties executivedirector David Eby said policeinvolved investigations usually take at least a year. They differ from those involving ordinary citizens because police operate under special provisions allowing them to use force, he said.
“The investigation needs to determine whether [police] broke the law, or just violated policy,” Eby said. Police-led investigations examine both the Criminal Code and professional standards, he said.
However, he said the differences between investigations of police officers and ordinary citizens don’t necessarily justify delays.
“As far as I’m concerned there shouldn’t be a difference in the amount of time,” he said. “You know the shooter, you know the victim, and you know the witnesses.”
He added that if anything were to delay the investigation, it might be the “use of force” report, which is an expert analysis of whether force was used correctly.
Eby said there has not been an indictable charge of murder, aggravated assault or manslaughter against an officer in B.C. in recent memory.
Vancouver police Const. Lindsey Houghton said that as the Dziekanski case showed, there are many expert opinions that need to be weighed before police can determine if force was used improperly.
“These investigations take a long time because they are some of the most complex investigations,” he said. “They are as, or more, complex than homicides.”
Every investigation is different, and the amount of time it takes depends on the evidence available, he said.
“The issue with any investigation, criminal or otherwise, is that it can’t come quick enough for some people,” he said. “But it has to be done correctly.”
In the Wright case, officers responded to a 911 call from his common-law wife, Heather Ashley Hannon, who said he had locked her out of their Langley residence during an argument. Two other people were also at home at the time.
When police arrived, she was back inside the home and Wright, who was 22, was upstairs sleeping in the couple’s bedroom. Hannon was not injured and never expressed fear of physical harm, Sorochan said.
Two officers burst into the room and a gunshot was heard almost immediately after, said Sorochan. A bloodstain by the doorway showed Wright, who was shot in the stomach, was close to the door when he was hit, he said.
The shooting officer returned to work two weeks later.
Sorochan said Wright’s wife and brother heard the shooting but didn’t see it happen, noting that only the officers and Wright were in the room at the time.
Hannon is launching a lawsuit against the RCMP officers involved, claiming she and her one-year-old daughter have suffered mental anguish and lost financial support. Hannon also says she was detained unlawfully for four hours after the incident, during which she was denied communication with a lawyer and had her cellphone taken away.