RCMP should get better training to deal with domestic abuse, says coroner's jury

Oct 1, 2004

BURNABY, B.C. (CP) - New RCMP recruits should get more training about spousal abuse and more supervision when handling such complaints, a B.C. coroner's jury has recommended.


The four-man, one-woman jury heard five days of evidence into the double murder of two women killed by an estranged husband on May 20, 2003.


The jury found that the deaths of Sherry Heron and her mother, Anna Adams, were homicides. They could not decide, however, whether the subsequent gunshot death of gunman Bryan Heron was accidental or a suicide.


After less than three hours of deliberations, the jury returned with eight recommendations for the RCMP and two for the provincial Ministry of Health.


The jury accepted Coroner Marj Paonessa's suggestion that training in violence in relationships should be added to the standard RCMP academy curriculum at the Regina training depot. And, the jury said, all in-service courses should have a minimum passing grade.


And all domestic violence complaints should be reviewed by a watch commander, the jury said. Also, a senior supervisor should also review all files handled by new recruits, it recommended.


As well, the jury said, B.C. hospitals should have written policies and procedures covering serious incidents such as the issuing of restraining orders. Also, patients in B.C. hospitals should be informed of options available to them should they feel at risk.


As the recommendations were read, the two women's family members sat holding hands.


The mother and daughter were gunned down in Heron's hospital room hours after authorities had served Heron's husband with a restraining order.


Al Thompson, husband of Sherry Heron's sister, Lisa, said the recommendations were strong ones.


"It's what the family was hoping for," he said. "We can only hope that the recommendations put forth by this jury will be implemented to prevent further tragedies."


Thompson wouldn't comment on whether the family is considering legal action against the RCMP or Mission Memorial Hospital. He said the family just wants to try and relax after many sleepless nights.


"We're going to try and digest the events of this week," he said. "It's just been overwhelming."


Bryan Heron, a senior B.C. corrections officer, killed himself two days after the hospital shootings as police closed in on his hiding place in a remote, wooded area of the Fraser Valley.


The inquest heard Bryan Heron dominated his wife with threats of violence. Sherry Heron, who had been hospitalized and later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, gave a statement to an RCMP officer a week before the shooting.


But the inquest heard Const. Mike Pfeifer, an officer with only six months on the job at that time, concluded her complaint needed no further investigation. He testified he left the file for his watch commander to review, but the watch commander testified he never saw it.


Pfeifer told the inquest he received no training on domestic violence at the Regina academy, but did take a later course on it.




The inquest heard his watch commander had never taken such a course.

Sgt. John Ward, a spokesman for the RCMP in British Columbia, said a violence-in-relationships course is now mandatory through the Regina depot and a new version of it will be unveiled soon.

The inquest heard Friday from RCMP Insp. Russell Nash, who conducted the force's internal review into how its Mission, B.C., detachment handled Heron's complaint.

In the review, Nash, a 28-year veteran, recommended the force enact a policy requiring a senior officer to review all files of domestic violence complaints as they are being done.

"The existence of a designated reader might have identified the problems with the investigation in time," read Nash's report issued one month after the shooting.

Nash, who was a senior officer in the Langley detachment, said his detachment uses two municipal employees - former RCMP officers themselves - to review domestic violence cases and notify supervisors if they need more followup.

Nash's report concluded that in the Heron case, officers didn't follow RCMP policy on interviewing relatives to gauge the potential for violence.

But Nash rejected suggestions Pfeifer's rookie status made it difficult for Pfeifer to investigate a senior corrections officer like Brian Heron.

He said it's up to Pfeifer's superiors to ensure the investigation is thorough.

"It's very clear that the supervisor has to take an active role and monitor that file," said Nash, adding the watch commander could decide a more senior investigator take over the file if necessary.

Cameron Ward, a lawyer for Sherry Heron's relatives, suggested officers don't implement the force's stringent policies.

Nash disagreed.

"I have to say in the strongest terms that I do and so do the members under my command."

Also on Friday, a former girlfriend of Bryan Heron drove to Burnaby from her home in Kamloops hoping to testify at the inquest.

She told reporters she had also been threatened by Bryan Heron.

"During the course of our relationship, which lasted about four years, he threatened to take my daughter, burn my house down," she said outside the inquest.

The inquest has heard previously Heron also threatened his first wife before they divorced in the mid-1990s.

But Paonessa agreed with a lawyer for the federal attorney general's department that Vandersman's relationship with Bryan Heron from 10 years ago was not directly relevant to the shootings.

The coroner also rejected Ward's request to call longtime women's activist Lee Lakeman to testify. Ward wanted Lakeman, of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, as an expert on violence against women.

Paonessa said Lakeman could not provide any first-hand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the death of Heron and Adams.


Here are the coroner's jury recommendations after looking into the hospital shooting deaths of Sherry Heron and her mother, Anna Adams, by Heron's estranged husband Bryon, who shot himself.

For the RCMP:

-RCMP supervisors should work with rookies throughout field training.

-All E Division (B.C.) members should be required to complete RCMP violence in relationships training within three months of being posted to B.C. All current officers who have not done so should complete the course within a year of the jury decision.

-All relevant files opened by a rookie should be flagged to the attention of a superior officer and signed off on within 24 hours.

-Domestic violence files should be designated priority one or two; the Heron file never received a domestic violence designation.

-Consider having recruits in field training pass written exams.

-Recruits should not be allowed to conclude any file without written permission of a supervisor.

-Domestic violence training at the RCMP training depot in Regina should be expanded and its importance stressed.

-All in-service courses should include written exams with minimum passing grades.

For the B.C. Ministry of Health:

-Hospitals should have written policies, procedures and training covering serious incidents such as the issuance of restraining orders.

-patients in B.C. hospitals should be informed of options available to them should they feel at risk.