Rodney Levi's death a homicide, jury decides

·5 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 coroner's inquest jury ruled Rodney Levi's death in a police shooting last year was a homicide and issued recommendations around mental health and police training aimed at avoiding similar deaths.

The recommendations covered three broad areas: Indigenous policing, mental health, and for the RCMP.

They included changes to mobile mental health crisis response teams to make it available to respond 24-hours a day, increasing training on mental health calls for RCMP cadets at the Mountie training facility at Depot in Saskatchewan, establishing detox and mental health centres on First Nations, more Taser training for police, and speeding up the rollout of body cameras for the RCMP nationally.

"We sincerely hope that the RCMP adhere and implement some of our recommendations," the juror who read the recommendations said. The juror expressed condolences to Levi's family.

Members of Levi's family cried, hugged and, after the recommendations were read, clapped.

"We got what we wanted — except for our brother," Levi's sister Linda told reporters after the conclusion of the inquest while family members held photos of the 48-year-old.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

"We're very happy with the work that the the jury did and how attentive they were," Rhoda Levi, another sister of Levi, said.

Levi, of the 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 inquest, a quasi-judicial proceeding with evidence and witness testimony, heard from more than two dozen people since it began Sept. 28. The jury of three women and two men were asked to determine Levi's manner of death.

Presiding coroner John Evans said accidental death could be ruled out, leaving essentially three options for the jury to decide: homicide, suicide or undetermined.

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.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Witnesses told the inquest Levi had two kitchen knives that he wouldn't release, even after being Tasered three times by Const. Justin Napke. The officers testified Levi moved toward Hait, who then shot Levi while the two were a few feet apart.

Levi's family expressed dismay when the inquest heard Tuesday from a suicide expert, who suggested Levi's death could be considered "suicide by cop" and said they were pleased the jury instead declared his death a homicide.

"I'm just glad today that we can finally breathe," Rhoda Levi said. "Just breathe, and remember our brother and that he did not want to die."

The jury began deliberations Thursday morning, stopped overnight and resumed for only a few minutes Friday morning before reaching a decision.

The recommendations touched on various aspects of witness testimony over the preceding week.

Experts in RCMP training and use of force had talked about how RCMP get 26 weeks of training at Depot, followed by about six months of field training in which they're paired with a mentor.

However, the witnesses said, sometimes RCMP staffing issues can affect how much time a new officer and mentors can spend together. The jury called for much more in-field training and for more experienced officers to be paired with new officers.

Hait had finished training at Depot about eight months before the shooting. He wasn't trained to use a Taser, something the jury said should be done at Depot.

The recommendations touched on mental-health mobile-crisis teams with addiction and mental-health social workers. Hait had requested the team in Miramichi be dispatched after he arrived on scene, but the inquest heard the unit didn't deploy because it was only given the responding officers cellphone numbers, and calls went unanswered.

The recommendations suggested changes to the way the unit is dispatched and when it should be deployed.

The jury also heard that some RCMP training is online-based without the element of a hands-on scenario.

Evans said he was pleased with the jury's work. The recommendations will be provided to the various governments or agencies they're related to, but it will be up to those organizations to decide whether to implement them.

The jury recommended:

  • Reinstatement of the Aboriginal band constable program, and until that's done, that the RCMP use a designated Aboriginal community liaison;

  • Counselling services for witnesses, victims, and family members of traumatic events be provided in a timely manner;

  • First Nations communities be provided with increased mental health services and facilities;

  • Detox facilities be made readily available in First Nations communities;

  • That in mental health wellness checks on First Nations, RCMP shouldn't be the first responders but be on standby for mobile health crisis units or an aboriginal liaison for that community;

  • Mobile crisis units be dispatched in similar fashion to other emergency services;

  • For mental wellness checks, the mobile crisis unit be dispatched along with other emergency services;

  • Information sessions on mental health and addictions be offered in First Nations communities regularly;

  • RCMP implement mandatory First Nation cultural sensitivity and awareness training at the Depot level;

  • RCMP provide dedicated, uniformed liaison officers to each detachment with a First Nation community in its jurisdiction;

  • Mandatory, scenario-based suicide intervention training to cadets;

  • RCMP expedite the deployment of body cameras to all officers nation-wide;

  • RCMP implement Taser training at Depot;

  • Increase RCMP field training time from six months to a full year;

  • RCMP adopt training recommendations submitted by Sgt. Kelly Keith to the inquest;

  • New RCMP officers be paired for field training with an officer who has a minimum of experience of five years;

  • RCMP increase its manpower;

  • Crime scene be cleaned professionally by a cleaning service.

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