The Peel Regional Police officers named in a $21-million lawsuit in an accidental police shooting deny interfering in the subsequent investigation — but admit that Chief Jennifer Evans visited the 23-year-old victim in hospital hours later.
Evans, the Regional of Peel Police Services Board and three constables recently filed their statement of defence in Ontario Superior Court, responding to claims levelled by Suzan Anissy Zreik in December.
Zreik was a second-year college student in police foundations when she was struck by a bullet that pierced the window of her family's Mississauga home on March 20, 2015. Police had been responding to a call at a neighbouring home on Queen Frederica Drive when they fired 19 shots at Marc Ekamba-Boekwa who approached officers with a knife.
Denial of negligence
Zreik's suit alleges that the officers had no firearms training — or disregarded it — based on the handling of their weapons in a residential subdivision the night she was shot.
Ekamba-Boekwa was killed in a hail of 11 bullets, both the SIU investigation into the March 20, 2015, shooting and Zreik's statement of claim agree.
But seven of the other eight shots sprayed the residential street; one pierced Zreik's family home and the others struck nearby doorways, according to the woman's statement of claim.
A rookie constable also shot her training officer in the back; he suffered only bruising because he was wearing body armour, the plaintiff's statement reads.
The Special Investigations Unit — the provincial watchdog that investigates any incidents of death or serious injury when police are present — cleared all the officers of criminal wrongdoing both in Ekamba-Boekwa's death and in Zreik's shooting.
The defence statement notes that the SIU "found that the force used by the defendant officers in discharging their firearms was justified in the circumstances."
All of those officers received proper weapons training, the defence statement continued.
Allegations of interference
Zreik's statement of claim alleged that officers denied her timely access to medical care — by having paramedics focus on their less severely-injured colleagues instead. And it alleged that the police chief visited Zreik in hospital, promising to pave the way for the woman's desired career in law enforcement.
The statement of defence filed with the Brampton courthouse acknowledges that Evans visited the woman at the emergency room. It denies, however, that she made any promises regarding future police work.
"Chief Evans had a brief conversation with the plaintiff while she was in the emergency room following the incident for the sole purpose of checking on her well-being," the statement of defence reads.
Evans also looked in on two officers — both defendants in the lawsuit as well — who had been injured in connection with the original police call, according to the defence filing.
Zreik's lawyer, Michael Moon, said Thursday that it remains "highly unusual" for the chief of police to visit a victim of a police shooting in hospital.
The statement of defence also denies that Evans or any other officer tried to coerce Zreik into clearing Peel police of any wrongdoing. The plaintiff alleged that the chief had stationed a police guard outside her hospital door, prevented her father from picking her up, and then had investigators take her to the police station less than 12 hours after she was shot in order to provide a statement.
At the time, Zreik wore only sweatpants and a hospital gown, was under the effects of morphine and still had the bullet inside of her, according to her statement of claim.
They were "trying to take advantage of her and have her agree to things on video while she was in a highly vulnerable state," the lawsuit says.
The defence filed on behalf of the officers, however, states that the lead investigator of the SIU had given them permission to interview Zreik and denies that "there was any unlawful conduct" in trying to obtain a statement from the woman.
The 23-year-old underwent surgery in April 2015 to remove the bullet lodged two centimetres from her spine. She now uses a cane to walk and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to her statement of claim.
The defendants, however, argue that Zreik suffered none of these injuries as a result of their actions — and allege that she has not done enough to mitigate the damages she's laid claim to.