Use-of-force experts say shooting Rodney Levi justified in circumstances

·4 min read
 Rodney Levi, 48, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer on June 12, 2020, southwest of Miramichi.  (Submitted by Tara Louise Perley - image credit)
Rodney Levi, 48, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer on June 12, 2020, southwest of Miramichi. (Submitted by Tara Louise Perley - image credit)

A use-of-force expert says the officer who shot Rodney Levi last year could have taken different steps during the less than 12 minutes he was on the scene, but in the circumstances most officers would have done the same thing.

Sgt. Kelly Keith from Manitoba was the third witness to testify about police use-of-force training and policies on Wednesday as the inquest into the 48-year-old's death continued.

Levi, of Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation on the Miramichi River, was shot by RCMP Const. Scott Hait outside the residence of a church pastor on June 12, 2020, near Sunny Corner.

Kelly said Hait and a second officer who arrived later should have cleared other people from the deck where Levi was located to protect them. He said Hait was too close to Levi.

The inquest has heard Hait and Levi were less than 10 feet (about three metres) apart on the deck, with one officer with his back to a house wall.

Different actions preceding that may have led to a different outcome, but that didn't occur and is now just a "what if," he said.

"At that point, there's no time for anything else but a firearm to be used," he said, adding "It's too close, too fast and it's just too risky to use anything else at that point."

He said he visited the scene and timed how long it would take for a person to lunge from where Levi was to where Hait was, saying it was less than half a second.

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

An inquest into his death began Sept. 28 at a hotel in Miramichi. It's not meant to lay blame, but to have a five-member jury come up with recommendations on how to prevent another death like Levi's.

Witness testimony finished Wednesday and the coroner is expected to provide the jury with instructions and time to deliberate on Thursday.

Levi had gone to pastor Brodie MacLeod's home on Boom Road southwest of Miramichi. The inquest has heard he appeared to be acting strange and had two kitchen knives in his hoodie pocket. Residents of the home called police worried about Levi.

When Hait arrived, he said the situation appeared calm and he tried to talk to Levi to persuade him to give up the knives, but he wouldn't. Hait testified Levi said he was suicidal, so the officer told Levi he would take him into custody under the province's Mental Health Act.

A second officer, Const. Justin Napke, attempted to use a Taser three times when Levi removed the knives from his pocket. The officers testified Levi had little reaction to being Tasered and took a quick step toward Hait. The officer then shot Levi twice in the chest.

Keith's testimony differed from an earlier RCMP officer who testified about police training and use of force.

Levi presented 'real threat'

RCMP Staff Sgt. Leonard McCoshen from Edmonton was the second witness called Wednesday and read a report he produced that examined the shooting.

The document was based on reports from the officers involved and the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes report that examined their actions.

He concluded that Levi presented a "real threat of bodily harm" to the officers, and therefore the shooting was "reasonable, necessary and consistent with RCMP policy and standards."

McCoshen said he couldn't second guess the actions of the officers with the benefit of hindsight but had to evaluate their actions based on policies and what they knew.

"There's a million things they could have done," McCoshen said, later adding "Unless you were there when it happened, you don't know what happened."

Members of Levi's family who have been attending the inquest appeared upset by the testimony and McCoshen's conclusions, with several leaving the hearing room.

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

P.J. Veinot, a former Crown prosecutor asking questions of witnesses on behalf of presiding coroner John Evans, asked McCoshen about the optics of an RCMP officer reviewing the use of force of other RCMP officers.

McCoshen said he understands that, but he's done 48 such reports.

"I try to be as objective as I can," he said. "I understand training, I understand policy. … For the most part, it's pretty clear. It either is or isn't" in line with that training and policy."

McCoshen refused to answer a juror's question about whether he personally would have acted differently in the circumstances.

Earlier, RCMP Sgt. Mike Beauchamp testified about the training RCMP officers receive in the use of force. Beauchamp is in charge of tactical training for RCMP in New Brunswick.

He said both Hait and Napke were certified for use of their firearms, and Napke was certified to use a Taser.

Beauchamp and McCoshen said pepper spray can be less effective if a person is wearing glasses, as Levi was that day.

McCoshen testified both officers had completed RCMP crisis intervention and de-escalation training.

"The online course is terrific," Kelly later testified of the de-escalation training.

But he recommended that officers get more than a three-hour online de-escalation course, saying there should be a hands-on aspect to apply the techniques they learn.

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