More than five years after Myles Gray died in a confrontation with seven Vancouver police officers, his family has learned that none of the officers involved will face charges in his death.
Crown prosecutors say that because of contradictions between the statements of the officers involved and an inability to pinpoint the exact cause of death, they have not been able to establish a clear picture of what happened and therefore do not believe they can prove any of the officers committed manslaughter or assault.
The B.C. Prosecution Service confirmed the news in a statement on Wednesday, saying the evidence does not meet its standards for charge approval, either the "substantial likelihood of conviction" used in most cases or the "reasonable prospect of conviction" accepted in cases of high public interest.
"The only witnesses to the physical altercation and restraint of Mr. Gray by the police were the attending members of the VPD. Based on the evidence available, the BCPS is not able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officers committed any offence in relation to the incident," the statement read.
Crown counsel visited Gray's mother, Margie Reed, on Wednesday morning and informed her of their decision not to charge any of the officers involved in Gray's death in a Burnaby, B.C., backyard on Aug. 13, 2015.
"I feel completely disgusted, completely let down. This is an absolute travesty of justice," Reed told CBC.
"To me, it's a really sad day for all Canadians, not just my family, because Crown counsel today just lowered the bar for policing in Canada."
In an email, VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said "This has been a tough, tragic situation for everyone involved. We respect the decision from Crown counsel and don't have anything further to add at this point."
Inconsistent, incomplete evidence from police, BCPS says
The prosecution service has provided a lengthy statement on the decision not to charge anyone, and it lays out a rough timeline for the events leading up to the fatal confrontation.
Gray, the 33-year-old owner of a wholesale florist business in Sechelt, B.C., suffered a long list of injuries in his encounter with seven Vancouver officers, including multiple broken bones and brain bleeding. He was unarmed at the time.
Gray was in the Lower Mainland to make a delivery to a Burnaby customer at the time of the confrontation, according to the prosecution service.
Police were called when a resident of a home on South East Marine Drive reported that Gray had taken a garden hose from his mother and sprayed her — the mother said Gray was speaking "gibberish." At the time, B.C. was in the midst of a major drought, and lawn watering was banned in Metro Vancouver.
The altercation that ended Gray's life took place in a backyard on nearby Joffre Avenue.
The first officer who arrived on the scene there described Gray as agitated, and called for backup.
She told investigators that she retreated to her van after Gray approached her, pointing at her badge. She said he tried to open the door of her van, but when she told him to back off, he did.
What happened after backup arrived is less clear. The evidence provided by police was both inconsistent and incomplete, according to the prosecution service's statement.
"While all officers describe Mr. Gray as resisting and offering a threat to the officers present, accounts of what he and the officers actually did at each stage of the encounter vary considerably," the statement said.
"In many respects, the contradictions between officers' accounts in key areas are incapable of resolution such that it is difficult to determine a coherent narrative of events."
Multiple possible causes of death
Toxicology evidence revealed that Gray had consumed a substance called Mitragynine — more commonly known as Kratom — before his death.
The substance is an herbal supplement that can be used as a stimulant or sedative, and it can also have mind-altering effects. No Kratom products are approved for sale in Canada, but it is not a controlled substance.
According to the prosecution service, Gray's injuries included a fractured orbital eye socket, broken voice box, localized brain bleeding, broken nose, bruising and cuts to the face, bruising to the muscles of his neck, hemorrhaged testicles, a broken rib, partial possible dislocation of the jaw and bruising on numerous other areas of his body.
Gray's hands and feet were bound in handcuffs and a hobble at the time of his death.
The prosecution service says he was subjected to numerous kinds of force by the officers involved as he went in and out of consciousness, including "the use of pepper spray; repeated baton strikes to the legs and lower body; neck and head restraint; foot, knee and closed fist strikes to the back and upper body; and closed fist strikes to the head and face."
A police use of force expert who spoke to B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office (IIO) gave the opinion that "all such uses of force could be consistent with police training and standards, where justified by a sufficient degree of threat and resistance from an individual," according to the prosecution service.
Some of the officers involved suffered minor injuries in the fight.
"Medical records note that one officer had been punched in the left side of his face and had a small cut under his chin. Another officer was noted to have a 5 cm laceration to his forehead, apparently caused by a low-hanging tree branch," the prosecution service said.
A forensic autopsy revealed nine possible causes of death, including suffocation, pressure to the neck, respiratory issues caused by the pepper spray, pain, anxiety, Kratom toxicity, "excited delirium," a pre-existing heart condition or other injuries.
Officer refused second interview with watchdog
The decision not to charge anyone comes nearly two years after Crown prosecutors began considering the evidence gathered by the IIO in its investigation of the case.
The investigation was stalled for months because of a dispute with Vancouver officers over their duty to co-operate with the police oversight agency.
An officer who witnessed Gray's death, Const. Hardeep Sahota, refused numerous requests from the watchdog to sit for a second interview with investigators, according to a court petition filed by the IIO.
It was only after that petition was filed that Sahota agreed to sit for a second interview.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has since clarified that witness officers have a duty to co-operate with the IIO, and that Vancouver police have been operating under a "misapprehension" of their legal duties.
The IIO's petition also alleged the officers involved kept incomplete records about what happened.
The court document claims that none of the officers made any notes about the altercation, contrary to VPD policy. It says they did submit evidence pages to PRIME, the police database, but not until at least five months after Gray had died.
The investigation was also complicated by the fact that Gray's injuries were so extensive. B.C.'s coroner had to call in experts from outside the province to assist with the investigation in an attempt to determine exactly how he died.