After finding the death of Thomas Evon Stevenson to be a homicide, a Coroner’s jury has today recommended that the British Columbia government implement an independent Special Investigations Unit to investigate police incidents resulting in serious injury, assault or death.

The jury heard evidence that Stevenson, 46, was shot by two members of the Vancouver Police Department on December 7, 2002 after he refused to get out of a locked stolen car on East Pender Street. He sustained six bullet wounds to his hands, chest and one arm and was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:26 p.m. Dozens of additional VPD members arrived at the scene and one of them retrieved a toy plastic gun from Stevenson’s lap.

According to inquest testimony, VPD homicide investigators met with Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis and VPD media relations officer Sarah Bloor at 1:30 a.m. on December 8, 2002 to formulate a public position on the incident. The VPD then released private personal information about Stevenson to the media.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Lee told the inquest that the wounds were consistent with Stevenson holding his arms outstretched when he was shot. Although a nearby civilian eyewitness testified the scene was silent before the shots were fired, although no reconstruction was attempted by investigators and although no fingerprints of value were found on the plastic toy gun, no charges were laid and the VPD file was closed.

Stevenson family lawyer Cameron Ward commented, “This jury has recognized that the police cannot conduct credible investigations of themselves. Reform of the system is long overdue and I hope that Solicitor General Coleman takes immediate action on this issue.”

The full text of the jury’s recommendations is set out below:

“To the Solicitor General of British Columbia, we recommend that:

1. Implement a special investigations unit similar to the S.I.U. in Ontario, independent of the police, to investigate circumstances involving police which result in serious injury, assault or death;

2. Circumstances involving the police which result in serious injury, assault or death be investigated by members of a police investigation team independent of the police force under investigation;

3. Specific protocol be developed related to the investigation of police shooting.

To the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Police Academy, we recommend that:

1. More dynamic training be developed in order to simulate real life situations.

To the Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department, we recommend that:

1. Implement video-cameras in all police vehicles, or at least in any police vehicle occupied by a single police officer;

2. High risk areas in the City of Vancouver be identified and patrolled only by officers in combination with at least one other officer or a canine.