Two weeks after gunsmith's death, SIU has not interviewed police officer who fired gun

·3 min read
A photo of Rodger Kotanko and his wife, Jessie, is held by Kotanko's son Conner. The family's lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, standing in front, says the family deserves answers. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)
A photo of Rodger Kotanko and his wife, Jessie, is held by Kotanko's son Conner. The family's lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, standing in front, says the family deserves answers. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)

Ontario's police watchdog says it is "about to" contact the Toronto officer at the centre of the investigation into the death of gunsmith Rodger Kotanko in early November.

Kotanko's family and their lawyer say the two-week wait is "concerning."

Special Investigations Unit (SIU) spokesperson Kristy Denette told CBC Hamilton on Friday the unit hasn't made an official request to interview the officer who fired his gun and review his notes but is "in the process" of doing so.

She did not explain why that hadn't been done yet, citing an "active investigation that is in the early stages."

"You would think they would be interviewing him immediately after it takes place rather than waiting two weeks," Jeffrey Kotanko, Rodger's brother, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

He said the officer's memory of the incident may have changed in that time.

Michael Smitiuch, the family's lawyer, said the news adds to a long list of unanswered questions about Rodger's death on Nov. 3 at his Norfolk County property.

"It is surprising to me that it would take this long for the SIU to reach out to, perhaps, the most crucial witness in this killing," he said Friday afternoon.

"It's concerning that this much time would go by before they would even make a request."

Toronto police said officers arrived at Kotanko's home on Port Ryerse Road around noon, some in plain clothes and some in tactical gear, on Nov. 3, looking for guns.

Kotanko was inside his gunsmithing workshop and family and friends say the 70-year-old was shot when police approached.

Officer in question can decline to be interviewed

Denette said the SIU has interviewed five of seven witness police officers and two civilian witnesses.

But unlike the witness officers, the male officer who pulled the trigger can choose to skip the interview and not surrender his notes.

Denette said since the officer is the focus of the investigation, he "is granted the same rights as any citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect himself ... from self-incrimination."

Bobby Hristova/CBC
Bobby Hristova/CBC

The SIU also collected one police-issued gun which is being analyzed at the Centre of Forensic Sciences, according to Denette.

The centre's website says that analysis could include determining the trajectory of the bullets and the distance between the muzzle and target, among other things.

The SIU is still waiting on the autopsy report, but the unit doesn't usually release that during its investigations, according to its website. The investigation could last up to four months.

Bobby Hristova/CBC
Bobby Hristova/CBC

On Thursday, Rodger's family and their lawyer held a press conference on his front lawn to demand answers and honour the 70-year-old father of three.

At least 50 community members attended to support the family.

"He wasn't violent, he wasn't something you should be afraid of," Rodger's sister, Suzanne Kantor, told the crowd.

Smitiuch assured those in attendance the family will not give up.

"This will not be swept under the rug ... we will search for answers and we won't stop until we get justice for Rodger."

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