After hearing some four weeks’ of testimony, a five-person coroner’s jury has classified Jeff Berg’s death in police custody as a homicide and has delivered a series of recommendations to the Vancouver Police Department. The jury heard testimony that on October 22, 2000, Jeff Berg, 37, a healthy man with no previous criminal record and unimpaired by alcohol or drugs, was surrendering to police when he was knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly as he lay motionless. Two police officers then handcuffed him, dragged his inert body across the pavement and left him prone and unattended for about ten minutes. When paramedics arrived, they found Mr. Berg face down with his hands cuffed behind his back. His heart had stopped and he was not breathing. The paramedics restored a pulse and transported him to hospital, where he remained on life support until he died on October 24, 2000.

At the time, the Berg family was not immediately informed of Jeff’s condition and, although the VPD holds daily morning media briefings, police spokesperson Anne Drennan did not tell the media of the incident for three days. Although the family was promised a coroner’s inquest in November, 2000, one was not convened until June 24, 2004, after Berg family lawyer Cameron Ward had petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Regional Crown Counsel notified the Berg family in December, 2002 (26 months after Jeff’s death) that no charges would be laid. Crown Counsel based its decision on an internal VPD investigation that was characterized by Dana Urban, Q.C., a former prosecutor now employed by the Police Complaint Commission, as “incompetent at best”.

This case raises a host of questions: Was there a cover-up? Should the police investigate themselves? Is the BC Coroners Service truly independent of the police, especially since the Coroners Service and the VPD work together on about 500 files a year? Why didn’t Crown Counsel (who also work routinely with the police) lay charges in this serious matter?