BURNABY (NEWS1130) – The training of police is coming in to question at the coroner’s inquest looking into why a homeless man was shot dead by VPD. The two officers approached the man as they looked for someone who had stolen a bag out of a nearby car.
Michael Vann Hubbard, 58, was shot by police on Homer Street between Pender and Dunsmuir. The incident happened around 10:30am on March 20th, 2009.
The inquest is scheduled to last the week, with Vancouver Police, a toxicology expert, the Medical Examiner and Vann Hubbard’s family all among those scheduled to testify.
Today, the officers who were involved in the shooting are telling the inquiry what happened.
Cst. Celia Tisdall and her partner, Cst. Estilize Wicks, were responding to reports that a black knapsack was stolen from a vehicle. She says they approached Vann Hubbard after they saw a man rummaging through a similar-looking knapsack near 555 Homer, a location police frequent because it houses federal parolees.
Tisdall explains how they pulled their police vehicle over, turned on the lights and in full uniform, identified themselves as Vancouver Police.
Tisdall says that’s when Vann Hubbard started to act strange. She and her partner told him, “If you’re not compliant, we’ll put you in cuffs.”
Vann Hubbard got a look on his face that Tisdall says made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
This is the point when Tisdall says Vann Hubbard reached back, pulled out a utility knife, extended the blade and approached them.
Cst. Wicks claims the situation escalated quickly with the homeless man yelling, “Shoot me! Kill me!”
When Wicks realized Vann Hubbard wasn’t holding a pen but rather the knife, she followed her partner’s lead an pulled her gun. She adds things were already beyond using a baton or pepper spray. Neither officer had a Taser, though Wicks says even if she had one, she would’ve still have used her gun.
Douglas King, lawyer for the Vann Hubbard family, says its not surprising the officer defended her use of force but… “obviously I’m not a use-of-force expert myself, but one thing that stands out to me is that both officers said that they immediately drew their weapons. It definitely stands to be questioned if one of those officers had a taser, whether it was necessary for both to draw firearms.”
Tisdall notes they yelled, “Drop your weapon,” but Vann Hubbard continued screaming and kept approaching them.
Tisdall describes how she thought about shooting Vann Hubbard, even put her finger on the trigger, but didn’t pull it. Vann Hubbard then reportedly lunged at the officers and that’s when Tisdall says her partner fired a shot.
Wicks thought, “Unless I do something, I am going to get seriously injured or [get killed].”
Wicks shot Vann in the middle of his body, doing so because that’s her training and she also didn’t want to hit one of the many people around on the busy street.
Tisdall notes how she started to put on handcuffs, but her hands were shaking so badly that she couldn’t and someone else had to.
Vann Hubbard died there on the street.
Tisdall says she was worried for the public’s safety because this incident happened around 10:30 a.m. in downtown Vancouver at a very busy time of the day.
Tisdall says she has dealt with people who have mental issues before and believed that Vann Hubbard did have mental issues based on his behaviour. But Estilize Wicks claims she would not have acted any differently regardless.
King repeatedly asked about the two officers’ knowledge of working with people with mental health problems. Neither had specific training but both said they had dealt with many in the past. He says that due to lack of funding, only a quarter of VPD members have taken an optional higher level course.
“What happened was rare and isolated. I don’t think any crisis or mental health care course could prepare you for that,” believes Tisdall.
Speaking outside coroner’s court, King says the family is just looking for closure now. They had considered a civil suit but recently the daughter closest to Vann Hubbard died and now remaining family just want information about what happened. They are concerned that video of the death has been released to others, though not to them.
Abbotsford Police investigated the shooting and recommended no charges against Tisdall or Wicks.
The coroner and a jury cannot make findings of legal responsibility in the shooting however they can make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.