Lawyer Barry Swadron: SIU findings ‘perverse’

Community News & Features Oct 1, 2004 at 4:27 pm

Family welcomes coroner’s inquest; detemined to get justice for Jeffrey

By Mari-Len De Guzman

TORONTO–The family of the Scarborough teen shot dead by police officer last May is hopeful a coroner’s inquest will finally get to the truth and give due justice to the death of their son.
This developed after the Special Investigations Unit released its findings on the shooting and death of Jeffrey Reodica, clearing the police officer who shot the teen three times in the back, ultimately killing him.

In a statement, SIU director James Cornish said, “The officers were responding to what can objectively be viewed as a dangerous situation…I believe, based on the very thorough investigation conducted by this Unit, that the force used was reasonable however regrettable the outcome may be.”
Barry Swadron, lawyer for the Reodica family, is calling the SIU conclusion “perverse” and “not based on evidence.”

“We could not believe it, on the basis of what we have learned (from the case),” Swadron told this reporter in a telephone interview.

According to the SIU, Dan Belanger, referred to on the report as the subject police officer, was justified for shooting Jeffrey because the teen was wielding a weapon, allegedly a black-handled flick knife with a 9cm blade.

Earlier, lawyers for the Reodica family who conducted an independent investigation on the case claimed none of the ten eyewitnesses they interviewed saw Jeffrey holding a knife at the time of the incident.

Based on the SIU statement released to the media, Jeffrey, who is right-handed, pulled out a flick knife using his left hand and swung at the subject officer who thought he was hit. Shouting that the youth had a knife, he drew back several steps. The subject officer later found out he was not injured.

The statement further stated, “The youth continued swinging his arm toward the witness officer (subject officer’s partner). The subject officer drew his firearm and fired three times on the young man who was getting up on his feet at the time.”

“Was Jeffrey not disabled after the first shot? Was there any need to finish Jeffrey off? The gun could have been pointed at Jeffrey’s leg, why (shoot him on) the upper torso where there are greater chances of killing him?” These were questions Swadron posed in reaction to the SIU report.

He said according to the SIU the only witness who was able to say he saw Jeffrey with a knife was the officer who shot him.

There is no other known eyewitness that said Jeffrey attacked the officers with a knife. There were also no fingerprints found on the knife, according to Swadron.
The Reodicas claimed that eyewitnesses’ accounts indicate the undercover police officers did not identify themselves to the group of Filipino youth.

Three witnesses interviewed by the SIU said the officers identified themselves. Four witnesses, however, said the cops did not identify themselves to the group of youth that included Jeffrey.

On its report, the SIU concluded Belanger identified himself to Jeffrey as a police officer since it is in accordance with police practice and that it would “make sense.”

“Just because it makes sense does not mean it happened,” was Swadron’s reaction to the statement.
He explained that if eyewitnesses did not know that Belanger was a police officer, Jeffrey must also not have known the man was an undercover officer.

Moments before releasing its statement to the media the SIU, represented by chief investigator Robert Watters and its legal counsel Joe Martino met with the Reodica family to disclose the result of its investigation.

The SIU is a civilian body that probes into the circumstances involving police officers and civilians resulting in injury or death. It determines whether criminal charges should be laid against involved police officers.

The SIU charter, however, does not provide for an appeal process after a decision has been made.
Other recourse

The Reodicas are determined to get justice for their son. They were not discouraged by the SIU report and they welcome the coroner’s inquest.

In an emotional statement, Jeffrey’s father Willie slammed the SIU decision saying there are “lots of flaws”.

“I will not be relieved until Dan Belanger is punished accordingly by the law,” he said.

The family welcomes the coroner’s inquest and urged the chief coroner of Ontario to commence the inquest as soon as possible and to probe more deeply into the case than the SIU did.

Shortly after the SIU released its ruling, Ontario chief coroner Dr. Barry McLellan announced an inquest into the teen’s death.

The coroner’s inquest aims to look into the circumstances of the death and make recommendations.
Although Swadron admits a coroner’s inquest can only make recommendations that are not necessarily binding, the family is optimistic it can pave the way for criminal charges being laid.

“There is nothing that prevents the community from rising up and appealing to the attorney general, who has the power to direct that criminal charges be laid,” he pointed out.

The legal counsel for the Reodicas likewise disclosed that the family is considering filing a wrongful death civil suit, though nothing has been decided at this time.

“We want to get our hands to the real truth,” said Swadron.

Community rising

The death of Jeffrey had caused members of the community to rise up and be heard. This is evident from the number of people that came to the press conference on Wednesday (Sept. 29) to show support for the Reodica family and express strong conviction for obtaining justice for Jeffrey.

Various community alliances formed picket lines in front of the Filipino Centre Toronto building on Parliament Street chanting, “Stop killer cops!” and “SIU shame on you!” while holding up placards.
Community groups such as the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, Latin-American Coalition Against Racism, International Socialists, Toronto Labour Council, Chinese-Canadian Council – Toronto, and the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) were represented.

In press statement, the CASJ denounced the SIU findings describing it as “biased, erroneous and full of inconsistencies.”

“Nothing can justify ending the life of Jeffrey. Not even the SIU’s convoluted account of how he supposedly wrestled with two veteran police officers,” the statement said.

Anna Willats, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), said the SIU report is inconsistent, the decisions and comments made were inappropriate.

“It just leaves you with the impression that they (SIU) saw their function to defend the police officers and put forward the police officers version of events, and that is not what the mandate of the SIU is,” Willats said in an interview.

She likewise expressed concern that neither the police chief nor the mayor has sent their condolences to the Reodica family.

“It seems that in Toronto the increasing attitude of the police is, we will protect ourselves and then we will protect everybody else, and that is not what we as a community expect police officers to be doing,” said Willats.

Previous record of violence

This reporter has learned that officer Belanger, who fired the three bullets that killed Jeffrey, is the subject of another complaint by a Scarborough man who was allegedly assaulted by Belanger in January.

Documents obtained by The Philippine Reporter identified Belanger as the person who committed the assault. The complainant was allegedly driving along Warden Avenue at around 2:00 AM when he was pulled over by a police car. Belanger and a partner approached his car.

“He (Belanger) immediately flung the vehicle’s door wide open and without uttering a word delivered a full force punch to my face. He was totally out of control as he tried to forcibly remove me from my vehicle while I was still confined by a seat belt,” the complainant stated.

According to him, Belanger and his partner were with two other police officers at the time. When the complainant approached the two police officers to ask if it was normal procedure one of them said, “We don’t see nothing.”

The complainant describes Belanger to be about 250 lbs and over 6 feet tall.

He said he was surprised the SIU concluded that Jeffrey was able to break free from Belanger and his partner as they tried to restrain him knowing how big the subject officer was.
“I would not have been able to break free from him,” the complainant said.