November 5, 2010
Durham Regional Police Sergeant Alistair Renshaw photographed arriving at his home in Bowmanville.Yvonne Berg/Yvonne Ber
Elyas Bariali held a flathead screwdriver, a “dazed” and “blank” expression on his face.
Five metres away were three Durham Region officers – Sgt. Alistair Renshaw and constables Shaun Arnott and Jeff Wannamaker.
They had come for Bariali at an Oshawa rooming house after they
learned the 29-year-old schizophrenic allegedly stabbed a local man with a screwdriver earlier that morning.
Moments after they arrived, Bariali was dead. Renshaw was the shooter. The Special Investigations Unit cleared the sergeant in April 2005, six weeks after the shooting.
A Toronto Star review of case evidence and court documents shows there was a lack of planning by the three officers followed by a snap decision to fire his gun by the officer who was the greatest distance away from the perceived threat.
“It’s not as if my brother was lunging at anyone,” said Bariali’s brother, Emal. “There’s three officers and it’s (the one who’s) the farthest away that shot.”
Today’s story is one of an ongoing series probing police conduct in Ontario. The Star has found officers are treated far differently than civilians when they shoot, beat or run over people. Stories published include an innocent accountant who had his arm broken in a traffic stop; a grandmother run down and killed by a police cruiser; and the story of a fatal shooting by police where the officers prepared their notes two days after with assistance from the same lawyer.
The SIU director at the time of the Bariali shooting, James Cornish, who reviewed his staff’s work on the case and decided the fatal shot was justified, declined to comment for this story. Durham Police declined to comment on the case. Sergeant Renshaw, when confronted by a reporter outside his home, hurried inside and said he was going to call police.
Details of what happened the morning of March 6, 2005, were found in pre-trial testimony given by the officers under oath to Russ Makepeace, the lawyer representing Bariali’s family in an ongoing lawsuit. There is a report by the SIU that details its conclusions, but the agency will not make it public. Cornish’s brief press release said the officers “reasonably feared for their lives.”
The pre-trial transcripts show:
Bariali was not running. He made no sudden moves.
There was no wind or other environmental reason not to use pepper spray. The officers also carried batons and wore Kevlar vests.
They had arrived on scene separately, and had not talked with each other about how to handle the suspect before knocking on the door and Bariali emerged, even though they had time. The SIU said “the officers had to act quickly” after they heard the report that Bariali had allegedly “just acted violently” and stabbed someone at a nearby Tim Horton’s.
None of the officers was pinned against a building or barrier preventing him from backing away.
All three were shouting, not speaking in a calm voice.
Bariali was moving “very slowly.”
Renshaw – the farthest from the suspect and perceived danger – fired his pistol from about five metres away. The bullet hit Bariali in the chest.
Renshaw said Bariali made a “very purposeful” step toward Wannamaker. He said he feared for the safety of his colleague, who was closest to Bariali. He said Wannamaker appeared pinned against a garage.
But the officer Renshaw said he was trying to defend told a different story.
Wannamaker said Bariali had not changed his slow, heavy-footed pace down the front steps in the moment before he was shot.
Wannamaker said he was not pinned when Renshaw fired.
Wannamaker did not have his finger on the trigger at the moment Bariali went down.
When asked what he feared, Wannamaker said “death or grievous bodily harm.”
Makepeace, the Bariali family lawyer, asked: “You didn’t think, ‘He might stab me in the arm or in the eye,’ or something like that? You thought grievous bodily harm, that was your process?”
Wannamaker said: “Yes.”
Arnott, standing beside Wannamaker, said that at the point Bariali was shot he had not decided to shoot and that his finger was also not on the trigger.
“I want to know if you had any reason to believe (Wannamaker) wasn’t competent to take care of himself when he had his firearm pointed at Mr. Bariali,” Makepeace said to Renshaw.
Renshaw responded: “I believed Jeff was competent, yes.”
After Bariali crumpled to the ground with a “devastating” wound, blood soaking his white T-shirt, Renshaw walked away from Bariali and, he said, called an ambulance. Wannamaker rolled the dying man over to search for other weapons. After that, neither he nor Arnott touched Bariali, though one of the officers said he talked to Bariali, encouraging him as he laboured to breathe.
When Makepeace asked Sgt. Renshaw, “Did anyone administer first aid to Elyas?” the Durham Police lawyer sitting beside Renshaw told his client, “Don’t answer that.”
It was not until two days after the shooting that Renshaw and Arnott prepared their notes. (A senior Durham police spokesperson told the Star officers are encouraged to prepare their notes as soon as possible to avoid the perception they are cooking up a story.)
Asked why he took two days, Renshaw said, “I’m not sure.”
Asked if anyone told him not to make notes of what happened, Renshaw’s lawyer told his client: “Don’t answer that.” When asked if any of his police superiors told him not to make his notes, Renshaw said, “No.”
The Bariali family is suing the officers and the Durham Police Services Board, seeking $100,000, including funeral costs, claiming the officers “needlessly escalated the conflict” and that Renshaw panicked and used excessive force. The officers deny they used excessive force.
Bariali’s brother Emal said the SIU failed his family.
“Two words on the (SIU) website are: Independent and rigorous,” Emal said. “I don’t understand how you can call that (investigation) rigorous.
“It’s just a farce organization. Seems to me like there are no consequences (for officers).”
In an interview with the Star, Durham Police Inspector Bruce Townley did not discuss details of the case, but said: “To imply or speculate that our officers were engaged in reckless tactics is not fair. . . . Officers react based on their training to use the appropriate level of force.”
Renshaw was cleared by the SIU. He still works for Durham Police and did not face internal disciplinary charges under the Police Services Act.
In the statement of defence as part of the family’s lawsuit he and the other officers say they acted in a “careful and prudent manner” during the incident that left Bariali dead.
David Bruser can be reached at 416-869-4282 or email@example.com
Tomorrow: Drunk driver Hafeez Mohamed, his roadside beating and 57-day coma.