Family of man shot dead by Durham police eager to provide inquest with new details
When the coroner's inquest into the police shooting death of Michael MacIsaac begins Monday, his sister Joanne is expected to be the first person to testify.
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Joanne MacIsaac says she’s been haunted in her nightmares by the final moments she spent in hospital with her brother Michael, who was shot twice by a Durham police officer in 2013.
“There were so many machines, they couldn’t close his abdomen, there was so much bleeding, and I put my hand on his shoulder, and I just said ‘Michael,’” MacIsaac said.
“And he opened his eyes so wide and stared at me, I could tell he was in so much pain. I started to scream ‘My God he’s in pain, he’s in pain,’ and the doctor said his blood pressure was too low, we can’t give him any pain medication.”
MacIsaac, becoming emotional in her Mississauga kitchen, was recounting for the first time in detail the day she and her sister Eileen went into Michael’s room at St. Michael’s Hospital after he emerged from five hours of surgery on Dec. 2, 2013.
He would ultimately succumb to his injuries after being shot by Const. Brian Taylor on a residential street in Ajax.
The 47-year-old man had been walking naked with a table leg, although his family disputes the account of Ontario’s police watchdog that he was still carrying it when he was shot. His family believes he had an epileptic seizure prior to the shooting.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) did not lay charges against Taylor, finding the use of force to be justified.
“I’ll never forget the look in (Michael’s) eyes. Never. How cruel. Nobody deserves that . . . He didn’t break the law, what did he do? What did he do to deserve that? He didn’t even commit a crime. What did he do?” MacIsaac repeated.
More than three years after his death, Michael’s family is now preparing for the coroner’s inquest that will probe the circumstances around the shooting. MacIsaac will be the first witness called to the stand Monday.
She’s nervous, but ready. The close-knit MacIsaac family has invested tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years in trying to unravel what happened to Michael that day in Ajax, and MacIsaac said she’s anxious to get the results of their own investigation out to the public.
The fruits of their labour are contained in large binders piled on MacIsaac’s kitchen counter. She has a life-sized mannequin in her basement, used to determine the trajectory of the two bullets that struck Michael.
The family has spoken with witnesses, requested EMS reports, had an independent autopsy conducted, consulted with ballistic experts, asked the Ministry of Health to investigate Michael’s transportation to hospital, complained to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, wrote to politicians, and met with SIU and Ministry of the Attorney General staff.
The family disputes much of what the SIU has said of the incident.
One of MacIsaac’s major doubts is whether Taylor tried to de-escalate the situation with Michael before he was shot. Her belief is bolstered by a 911 call from the scene of the shooting that the family obtained last year and had reviewed by a forensic scientist.
The family believes the call contradicts the officers’ notes and shows Taylor did not shout commands at Michael before shooting him. In his notes, which the family obtained through a freedom of information request, Taylor wrote:
“A male was in front of me waiving (sic) a metal pole. The male held the pole as if he was preparing the walk to the pole in a baseball game. The male was screaming ‘Come on? Come on’ I feared for my safety and drew my service issued Glock. I pointed it at the male and issued the Police Challenge ‘Police don’t move.’ Subsequent demands were issued to drop the weapon and for the male to get on the ground.”
Taylor gave an interview to SIU investigators, but did not provide a copy of his notes, as is his legal right. He wrote that he shot MacIsaac as he was advancing on him.
One of the witness officers, Const. Mark Brown, also said in his notes that Taylor was “yelling commands and identifying us as police officers.”
None of this can be heard on the 911 call, nor is it noted by the forensic scientist who listened to it for the MacIsaacs. A voice believed to be that of the police officer can be heard saying, “Get back, get back,” and within seconds, the 911 caller can be heard on the phone saying “Oh s---” as a bang erupts in the background, and then “Oh God.”
The forensic scientist said two noises that overlap with those words could have been gunshots, and the family is adamant that they were.
“I’m quite confident that we’re going to prove to people that the SIU’s conclusion and version of events are not accurate,” MacIsaac said last week.
It’s unclear if the SIU listened to the call as part of its investigation into Michael’s death. Both the agency and Durham police declined to comment for this article because of the pending inquest.
Since Michael’s shooting, and especially after the SIU announced in 2014 that no criminal charges would be laid, MacIsaac has become close with a number of other families who have lost relatives to a police shooting. She said she’s done her best to help them navigate the various police oversight bodies and to get answers.
“It’s always sad when there’s another family that reaches out, it means the system has failed again, but it makes me feel a little happy to at least be able to perhaps guide them, because there is no manual to be guided through this process,” she said.
“We’re a unique group in the way that these deaths are very public, and under a lot of scrutiny. And you have people who, no matter what happens, will always back the police, and you have people on the other side too. You’re handcuffed to the system for many years (after the death).”
Recommendations from an inquest jury are not binding on authorities, but MacIsaac said her family will be doing everything they can to make sure what is recommended actually gets implemented.
One recommendation that she is hoping does not emerge from Michael’s inquest is that all front-line officers should be equipped with Tasers, a recommendation by the jury at the recent inquest into the Toronto police shooting death of Andrew Loku.
“In order to encourage de-escalation, we’re going to give these men and women another instrument to use against the public? I don’t think so,” she said.
The inquest will also be the first time MacIsaac has come face to face with the man who killed her brother.
“Do I hold him accountable? Yes, he pulled the trigger, but I think there are so many other variables, so many other things that went wrong that day, that other people did that led to this outcome. Things that need to be prevented so that this never happens again.”