Fear for partner drove officer to kill teen, inquest hears

Lawyer questions decision to draw gun in fatal confrontation with 15-year-old Duane Christian

Published On Wed Feb 10 2010

Brendan Kennedy Staff Reporter

Const. Steve Darnley did not turn on cruiser's police lights while facing down driver of stolen van. (Feb. 9, 2010)



The Toronto police officer who shot and killed a 15-year-old boy driving a stolen van created a dangerous situation by drawing his firearm in an attempt to stop the vehicle, the lawyer for the boy's mother told a coroner's inquest Tuesday.

"You didn't think you might yell (at your partner) to get out of the way instead? You didn't think that?" Peter Rosenthal asked Const. Steve Darnley, the officer who shot Duane Christian on June 20, 2006.

Darnley maintained he believed the driver was going to use the van to run over his partner, Const. Rowena Edey, and the most effective way to protect her was to shoot the driver in the hope the vehicle would change course.

The province's Special Investigations Unit, a civilian agency that investigates incidents involving police that result in serious injury or death, cleared Darnley of any wrongdoing two months later, saying he was "legally justified" to shoot Christian "to prevent his partner from being deliberately run down."

Christian's family has launched a landmark $2 million negligence lawsuit against the SIU, alleging their investigation was fraught with problems. It is believed to be the first such lawsuit filed against the agency. Many of their concerns were highlighted in Ombudsman André Marin's 2008 review of the SIU that accused the agency of having a bias toward police officers.

Dr. John Carlisle, presiding over the inquest, is probing all of the circumstances surrounding Christian's death.

Darnley testified that he and his partner were working a routine night shift in Scarborough when they noticed the van. After running the licence plate, they discovered it was stolen.

Without turning their emergency lights on, Darnley said he and his partner confronted the vehicle at a parking lot roundabout at 3700 Lawrence Ave. E.

He could not explain why they did not turn on their police lights.

Darnley said he drew his firearm as soon as he got out of his police cruiser, because he wanted to more clearly convey his commands to the suspect, and because he believed the suspect could pose a violent threat, because he was driving a stolen vehicle and had made attempts to evade police.

No weapon was found on Christian's body.

Rosenthal suggested it would have been better if Christian had simply driven out of the parking lot. Darnley responded that he believed the driver was going to do "whatever was necessary" to escape apprehension, including run over his fellow officer, and there wasn't time to make any other decision.

Darnley maintained that given the opportunity, he would not have done anything differently, despite the fact the Toronto Police Service has since changed its use-of-force policy to prohibit officers from shooting drivers to stop vehicles.

After the hearing, Rosenthal, acting on behalf of Simone Wellington, Christian's mother, said it's "astonishing" that Darnley would continue to say he would not consider telling his partner to move, rather than confront the driver.

"In my view, that shows a serious lack in the training of Toronto police officers," Rosenthal said.

Kikélola Roach questioned Darnley on behalf of the Black Action Defence Committee, pressing the officer on his race-relations and use-of-force training.

The inquest continues Wednesday with the resumption of Darnley's testimony.