The need for vigilance in the Jeffrey case

Opinion & Analysis Sep 1, 2004 at 4:30 pm

I attended the press conference of the lawyers of the family of Jeffrey Reodica last Friday, Aug. 27 with much anticipation because it would reveal the findings of the family-initiated independent investigation into the fatal shooting of the youth from Scarborough on May 21, 2004.

The announcement in the email said that the Special Investigations Unit probe would be released at end of August. So that puts a lot of pressure on the SIU to come up with a final report. It’s about time. It’s been three months since the death of Jeffrey.

According to Rose Hong Bliss, SIU Communications Manager, who phoned me about two months ago, the SIU usually takes an average of thirty days to release a report. But, she said, each case is different and there is no deadline for releasing a report. When I pressed for a time frame she said the Jeffrey case couldn’t take more than six months. But that’s her own estimate and not an official one.

But that is the time factor. More importantly, the results of the family-initiated investigation, conducted by lawyers Bayani Abesamis, Antonio Villarin and Frank Luna, now puts a stronger pressure on the SIU to come up with credible findings that would not be totally nor blatantly opposite the former. (See banner story on page one.)

According to Abesamis, they inverviewed twelve witnesses, ten of whom were between four to twenty feet from the spot where Jeffrey was shot. A number of them were residents of the neighborhood who claimed to have seen with their own eyes how the incident happened.

From the boys who were a few feet from Jeffrey when he was shot, and from the statements of the residents, the lawyers pieced together how the incident unfolded. The more critical aspects of the story are: that Jeffrey did not wield a knife; that he did not physically attack the police officer who shot him; that he was shot in the back while getting up from the ground; that subject officer Dan Belanger fired his gun at close range three times in rapid succession; that the police were in plainclothes and one of them was already holding a gun when he alighted from their car; that the two police officers were talking with the white boys before they approached the group of Jeffrey.

According to Barry Swadron, lead lawyer of the family, these are some of the questions that need to be answered: Who called the police and what were the police told? Why were the police dispatched in an unmarked car? Why were plainclothes officers dispatched? Why did the police officers fail to identify themselves? Why would one officer approach Jeffrey with his gun drawn? If Jeffrey was wielding a knife, why would he be told to “drop the rock”? What danger was posed by Jeffrey that warranted the use of deadly force? Given that the first shot disabled Jeffrey, why were two more shots in rapid succession necessary?

As Swadron had said, this is not a complicated case. There were ten or twelve eyewitnesses interviewed by the Abesamis team. Add to that the two police officers. Add to that the white boys who were in the van and reportedly brandished baseball bats. And a few adults who were with the white boys in the van. The SIU claimed a long time ago that it had interviewed 40 people in its investigation. Then why is it taking them more than three months to piece together a story? Are they waiting for the Reodica family and its lawyers to reveal what they know before coming up with their own report?

The SIU may release its report soon but it will take a long long time before the family, the Filipino community and the general public are satisfied that the whole truth about the incident has been revealed and that justice has been served. The more important thing now is for the family, its supporters, the Filipino community and other communities to remain vigilant against attempts by interested parties to distort the true circumstances of the case.

One example is illustrated by a column written by Christie Blatchford of The Globe and Mail immediately after the incident where she narrated in great detail how Jeffrey supposedly swung a knife to a police officer before he was shot. It was obvious who her sources were but couldn’t she have verified that version with those of the eyewitnesses? One eyewitness interviewed by Toronto Sun (known to be a right-wing daily) said Jeffrey had no knife. If a national daily like The Globe and Mail could be a (willing?) victim of a disinformation campaign in order to spread an unverified story, what media outfit can we still rely on to tell the truth?

Another example came from a CFTO reporter, who while doing her story of the incident, was told by residents in the area where Jeffrey was shot that “authorities” had gone the rounds of the neighborhood saying a young boy “with a knife” was shot the previous night.

One particular sector of the Filipino community that needs to be vigilant is the media. In the press conference last Aug. 27, only two Filipino newspapers were there. One writer was there not to represent his paper but as part of the media committee of Justice for Jeffrey Coalition. The next day, I attended the advanced film screening of Imelda, a documentary about the infamous first lady of the late dictator Marcos. Almost all the Filipino media were present. The media people sat there for about three and a half hours (including lunch) and enjoyed the full-length film where Imelda mostly blabbered about herself, her innocence of the crimes she’s charged for, and her spiritual and philosophical permutations.

I do not deny the importance of viewing a documentary about Imelda, the first of its kind. But the story about Jeffrey should be given its proper place in the community media. The mainstream media, including the three dailies, CBC and the Toronto TV stations have given a lot of column inches and air time to this unfolding story. Why can’t the Filipino media do the same? I think they should even outdo the mainstream media in the coverage of this story. Why not? After all, it’s about the killing of a member of their community and it could be about the future of this community in this part of the world.