Four Calgary police officers will face a disciplinary hearing for their role in the shooting death of Anthony Heffernan in 2015.
A fifth officer, Maurice McLoughlin, resigned from the force prior to the decision by the chief of police and will avoid any hearings or penalties as a result — a move the Heffernan family called "cowardly."
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.
McLoughlin fired the shots that killed Heffernan. Following an investigation, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) recommended he be charged. The Crown prosecution service did not pursue charges.
2 of 8 allegations to be heard
The hearing decision, handed down by Chief Mark Neufeld on Sept. 23, dismisses six allegations brought forward by Heffernan's family, including insubordination and willfully or negligently making false statements in relation to the incident.
The two allegations that will be heard are unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority for entering the hotel room where Heffernan was shot and neglecting duties as police officers "by failing to adequately consider tactical goals and risks before entering the room."
The details of the chief's decision were not previously known.
The hearing follows two investigations into the incident, one by ASIRT and the other by the RCMP on behalf of the Calgary Police Service and in response to the complaints filed by Heffernan's family.
Heffernan was killed after the five officers entered his Barlow Trail hotel room following a complaint from staff that Heffernan had missed his checkout time and "did not respond to demands to leave."
Heffernan had relapsed and was taking drugs.
After officers breached the door of his room some time later, he was shot four times. Officers said he rushed at them with a syringe in his hand.
Tom Engel, the lawyer representing the Heffernan family, says his clients are happy there will be a hearing on two of the allegations, but are disappointed in the dismissals and will likely seek a review of the decision with the Law Enforcement Review Board.
"They want to see the officers, all of the officers who were involved in this, held accountable," he said.
"The consequences were obviously as severe as they can be and they think that the punishment ought to be harsh."
Engel said, however, that's not likely "given the way that punishment of police officers is meted out in this province."
Still, the lawyer said it's important that the two allegations will be examined and hopefully shed light on why the officers rushed into a room on a wellness check and ended up killing Heffernan.
"This is the kind of conduct that is under heavy scrutiny nowadays, about how police respond to a mental health check on the welfare calls," said Engel. "So it's extremely important. It'll be a very, very important disciplinary hearing."
The Calgary Police Service sent a statement attributed to Supt. Scott Boyd reiterating the decision made by Neufeld.
"Given that a public hearing will take place, and to ensure a fair process for all involved, it would be inappropriate to provide any additional information at this time," it read.
There is no date set for the disciplinary hearing, but Engel said it might not be finished by the end of 2021. Any appeals, from the officers involved or from the family, could mean years of continued legal wrangling.