Wife of man shot dead by Mounties sues force
Published Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:43AM PDT
It began with an argument, led to a 911 call and finished with the sound of a gun shot.
Heather Hannon had dialled the emergency number after a spat with her husband, but after police arrived and a Mountie's gun was fired, Hannon was whisked to a Langley, B.C. police station.
She spent nearly four hours forming "terrifying conclusions" about what had happened to her husband while police would neither allow her to leave, nor tell her what was going on, says the civil suit Hannon has now filed.
Her lawyer told a news conference Tuesday Hannon is seeking compensation for her ordeal.
The suit says while at the police station, Hannon sent a text message to her father to "please help," but her mobile phone was quickly confiscated.
Crying and distraught, she knew only that Mounties had entered her home and gone up to the bedroom where she believed her husband was asleep.
She collapsed when RCMP told her 22-year-old Jeffrey Wright was dead. The suit says that elsewhere in the detachment, her father could hear the sounds of his daughter's screams echoing through the building's atrium.
"Heather was denied the comfort of her father and was instead informed of her husband's death by members of the same organization that had caused it," states the lawsuit outlining what happened after Wright's death by police shooting on Aug. 6, 2010.
Hannon's lawyer, Donald Sorochan, likened Wright's death to those of Robert Dziekanski and Frank Paul, both high-profile, police-related deaths that were examined in public inquiries.
"Don't take what I'm saying here in criticism as a slagging of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force. It happens to be a police force for whom I have a lot of respect," Sorochan told a news conference where he explained the suit, which lists six unidentified RCMP officers.
"But it must earn that respect on a daily basis."
The attorney general of Canada, and B.C.'s minister of public safety and solicitor general are also named in the civil action.
Sorochan said Hannon and other family didn't attend the news conference because they didn't want to relive the death.
Wright died hours after being shot in the stomach near the doorway of the couple's bedroom when RCMP officers entered their home on reports of a domestic disturbance.
The suit alleges the couple had a verbal argument and Hannon left. Wright went upstairs to bed.
There was no assault or threats of violence, the lawsuit says.
"At no point did Heather ever express a concern for her safety," it states.
The suit says Hannon later phoned 911 because she couldn't get back into the home to get her keys and baby supplies for their infant, who was being cared for by a babysitter.
When police arrived, they went into the apartment and entered the bedroom without prior announcement, states the suit.
Hannon was not with the officers when her husband was shot. After the gunfire, she was taken by police car to the station.
The suit says she was held without explanation and was eventually informed her husband was dead in an "unsympathetic and patronizing manner."
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The Vancouver Police Department has been tasked with investigating the matter as an outside force. Officials have told Sorochan its report will be complete sometime in September. The identities of the officers named in the suit have not been revealed.
"Hopefully the investigation into this matter will ... make sure this doesn't happen again," Sorochan said, noting it's up to the Crown to decide if criminal charges are warranted.
"Somehow it has to get across that there are ways of doing things that do not necessarily have to result in people dying."
RCMP declined comment while the case is before the courts.
The suit seeks a variety of financial damages, but Sorochan wouldn't name a figure. The suit claims RCMP are liable for assault and battery, negligence and Charter violations. It contends Hannon suffered false imprisonment and psychiatric harm.
An unnamed 18-year officer who shot and killed Wright was authorized to go back to full duty by Langley RCMP Supt. Derek Cooke. The announcement was made on the same day as Wright's funeral.
The suit claims the move was "calculated to minimize any responsibility of the RCMP" and meant to leave a "false impression" with the public the man "brought his death on himself."
A transcript of the funeral eulogy delivered by one of Wright's former teachers says the couple were together for six years and Wright considered Hannon to be "the love of his life."