Calgary officer promoted 6 weeks after being ordered to disciplinary hearing in Heffernan shooting

·3 min read

A Calgary police officer has been promoted just weeks after he was ordered to a disciplinary hearing for his role in the shooting death of an unarmed man inside a hotel room.

On Nov. 18, Lon Brewster was promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant, six weeks after Chief Mark Neufeld released a decision sending the officer and three others to a Police Act hearing for offences which include unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority and neglecting duties as police officers.

Anthony Heffernan, 27, was fatally shot inside a northeast hotel room in 2015, after police were called for a wellness check.

The latest move by CPS is another gut punch to Heffernan's parents, Pat and Irene.

"It's totally unreasonable," said Pat in reaction to news of the promotion.

Irene called the promotion "unconscionable."

"I guess they don't really consider taking someone's life to be very important."

Submitted by Heffernan family
Submitted by Heffernan family

72 seconds

Heffernan had relapsed and was taking drugs at the time he was shot.

Five officers busted in his hotel room, justifying it because they said they were concerned for his safety.

Just 72 seconds later, he'd been shot four times, including three in the head and neck.

Brewster was not the shooter or the one who made the call to enter the hotel room but was the highest ranking officer at the scene.

According to CPS, Brewster has never faced disciplinary action before or since the hotel incident and has "demonstrated a strong commitment to policing and the community over his 14-year career."

"We consider factors like when the incident occurred, what their role was in the incident, whether there is a pattern of misconduct or incompetence, and whether they have demonstrated a commitment to our values over their career," said the service in a written statement provided to CBC News.

Hala Ghonaim/CBC
Hala Ghonaim/CBC

Losing hope

But the Heffernans say they are losing hope for accountability.

"When a person is killed when they're on a health and wellness check, this is extremely serious, this isn't just some minor thing where someone said he misspoke to them or treated them poorly … and yet the police are sloughing it off," said Pat Heffernan.

"The message it sends to us is that they don't want to be held accountable."

On the afternoon of March 16, 2015, officers were called to the hotel after Heffernan stayed past his check-out time.

It was determined that Heffernan was likely doing drugs inside the room and officers requested and received permission from an acting staff sergeant to break in.

Of the five officers who entered the room, Brewster was the only one who did not walk in with his gun or Taser drawn.

Submitted by Heffernan family
Submitted by Heffernan family

Anthony's death an 'inconvenience' to CPS, says family

Once inside, the officers reported Heffernan was holding a syringe and wasn't responding to their commands.

A Taser was deployed but hit Heffernan's shirt. He tried to remove the probes and moved toward the officers in a motion Brewster described as a "lunge."

That's when Const. Maurice McLoughlin opened fire, shooting Heffernan four times.

The syringe officers had spotted in Heffernan's hand was ultimately found without a needle.

"Anthony's death to them is an inconvenience but it's not anything they're going to look at to make changes so this does not happen again," said Pat Heffernan.

Officer who shot Heffernan resigns

The salary range for a sergeant is $126,922 to $130,728 per year, while the compensation increases to $137,322 to $141,461 for a staff sergeant.

McLoughlin, the officer who shot Heffernan, resigned from the force prior to the decision by the police chief and will avoid any hearings or penalties as a result — a move the Heffernan family has previously called "cowardly."

Following an investigation, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) recommended he be charged. The Crown prosecution service did not pursue charges.

Alberta is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdictions in the country where police officers can resign in the face of discipline and maintain a clean record.

The disciplinary hearing is likely to take place in late 2021.