Suicide expert suggests Rodney Levi's death could be 'suicide by cop'

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

The fatal shooting of Rodney Levi meets several factors to be considered a 'suicide by cop,' an inquest examining his death heard Tuesday afternoon.

Gregory Zed, a certified forensic suicidologist, was declared an expert witness able to offer opinion evidence by coroner John Evans, who is presiding over the inquest in Miramichi.

Becky Levi told reporters the suggestion her uncle's death was a suicide-by-cop doesn't fit with what she knew about him.

"It was so frustrating," Levi said. "I knew my uncle Rodney. He was a lot of things. I feel - and my family feels - that suicide wasn't one of them.

"I know he had his troubles with depression, but he just wouldn't do that."

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

The inquest that began last week is examining the Metepenagiag First Nation man's death on June 12, 2020.

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

Levi was shot by Const. Scott Hait outside a pastor's home on Boom Road, southwest of Miramichi.

The inquest has heard police were called because Levi had two kitchen knives in his sweater pocket. Hait testified Levi told him he was suicidal.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Zed said he examined the Quebec police watchdog agency Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes that examined the shooting and other information to reach his conclusion.

He noted his finding is considered theoretical. Detailed interviews, called a psychological autopsy, with Levi's family to gather more information about his life would be needed before a definitive conclusion could be drawn.

Before Zed's testimony, Evans told the five-person inquest jury that some witnesses at the inquest are providing factual information, while others can be called to provide contextual information the jury can use or reject.

Earlier on Tuesday, the inquest heard from three doctors, two who treated Levi in the years before his death.

Dr. Jennifer Shea, a clinical biochemist at the Saint John Regional Hospital, testified Levi had methamphetamine in his system when he died.

Dr. Linda Hudson, a now-retired family physician who spent 20 years working with an addictions unit in Miramichi, testified about how Levi had at least 35 admissions to the detox unit since 2002.

However, she said at several points, he would leave the program early or not respond to follow-ups.

"You could see he was struggling with the addiction and wanting to do recovery, but just not following through with it," Hudson said.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

She suggested there should be detox units in First Nations communities and programs that can treat dependence on opioid drugs would be helpful.

Hudson said that would make it easier for people to attend services and for those caring for patients to know the community members.

She also suggested Canada explore decriminalization of possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use, similar to Portugal.

She said that can shift resources from addressing addiction as a crime to treating it as an illness.

"It certainly has made a big difference there," Hudson said of Portugal. "The rate of HIV and [Hepatitis C] has gone down as well because now they're treating it as a medical problem and getting much better recovery."

Dr. Sergiy Ostashko, a psychiatrist who works at the hospital Miramichi, treated Levi when he was admitted to the emergency room at several points starting in January 2016.

The first time, he was showing symptoms of drug withdrawal. The second time was the following month when Levi was described as feeling unhappy and unwell, telling Ostashko that if he wasn't prescribed certain medication he would kill himself.

The doctor admitted him to hospital for 72 hours under the Mental Health Act, though he was discharged before that because he no longer indicated he wanted to harm himself.

Ostashko indicated Levi was supposed to follow-up with outpatient care, but didn't.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

He was brought to the ER several more times in the following years, the last in December 2019 when he was again released with a referral to outpatient care.

Ostashko said his notes don't indicate that follow-up care happened.

Ostashko recommended changes to addictions and mental health care, saying there are not enough nurses in the health care system.

He said getting appointments with the mental health centre in Miramichi can take up to 18 months, while it's closer to 30 months in Moncton.

After finishing his testimony, he offered a comment to Levi's family.

"My sincere condolences," Ostashko said to the family. "Every time we try to do our best, but sometimes we can't. Sometimes we can't."

The inquest continues Wednesday.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

CHIMO hotline: 1-800-667-5005 / http://www.chimohelpline.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566

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