Rodney Levi inquest jury deliberates on cause of death, possible recommendations

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

A five-member jury will continue deliberating Friday after hearing several days of witness testimony during an inquest examining the death of Rodney Levi last summer near Miramichi.

Presiding coroner John Evans gave instructions to the five-member jury Thursday morning.

"It's now your responsibility to render a decision based on the evidence you've heard during this inquest," Evans said.

They were sent to deliberate just before 10 a.m. but returned just after 4 p.m. with Evans indicating they had yet to reach a decision.

Deliberations continue Friday morning.

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

The shooting occurred during a period of increased attention on police use of force, particularly people of colour. It came days after the death of Chantel Moore, who was shot by an Edmundston police officer during a wellness check.

Must determine cause of death

The jury of three women and two men is tasked with determining a cause of death. Evans said accidental death can be ruled out, leaving essentially three options for the jury to decide: homicide, suicide or undetermined.

Evans said undetermined would mean the jury can't agree on the other two.

"It basically boils down to whether this was a homicide or a suicide," Evans said

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

The jury can also issue recommendations to try to prevent similar deaths in the future.

He cautioned the jury that their role is not to find responsibility for Levi's death since an inquest isn't a criminal or civil trial.

Levi had gone to pastor Brodie MacLeod's home on Boom Road. The inquest heard that Levi 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 at about 7:16 p.m., 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, arrived at about 7:20 p.m. and when Levi wouldn't release the knives tried to use a Taser three times.

The officers testified Levi had little reaction to being Tasered and took a quick step toward Hait, who then shot Levi twice in the chest when they were only several feet apart. The shooting happened less than 12 minutes after Hait arrived at the scene.

The jury last week saw a 37-second video that captured the attempts to Taser Levi and then the shooting.

"We're talking split seconds here," Evans said of what unfolded during a summary of witness testimony.

He outlined testimony from Staff Sgt. Leonard McCoshen on Wednesday, who said the officers followed RCMP training and that their actions were justified.

But he also pointed out a second use-of-force expert who testified Wednesday that the officers could have taken different actions before the shooting that may have led to a different outcome.

Sgt. Kelly Keith with the Ste. Anne police in Manitoba said the officers should have cleared several other people off the deck as well as the family's dog.

And Keith said Hait shouldn't have been as close to Levi as he was.

"This is something that concerned me right from the get go — was there another possible outcome had the officers approached this process slightly differently?" Evans said to the jury.

"I'm not blaming them. Not for two seconds. I'm just saying that what we discovered through Sgt. Keith's evidence is that there appears — in his opinion — there is a deficiency in the training, the RCMP training regime."

He said the jury will have to weigh evidence that suggested Levi was suicidal. Hait testified Levi told him he wanted to end his life, and after he was Tasered, told the officers "you're going to have to put a bullet in me."

He said the jury should craft recommendations that, if implemented, can make a difference in the future.

"You folks can make a difference with good recommendations, and I'm confident that you will," Evans said.

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