Inquest into fatal shooting of Andrew Loku explores issues of race, mental illness
Amara McLaughlin, CTV News Toronto
Published Monday, June 5, 2017 3:14PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 5, 2017 6:51PM EDT
A coroner’s inquest begins Monday into the death of a Toronto man who was fatally shot following a police confrontation nearly two years ago.
Andrew Loku, 45, was killed on July 5, 2015 shortly after midnight as he wielded a hammer in the third-floor hallway of an apartment building in the Caledonia-Fairbank area, near Caledonia and Rogers roads.
Michael Blain, counsel to Coroner Dr. James Edwards conducting the inquest, told the court Monday that Loku was involved in a verbal altercation that night with the neighbours who lived above him. He said the neighbours eventually phoned 9-1-1 and another witness reported that Loku was “going to kill her friend.”
According to the province’s police watchdog agency, Loku refused to comply with police demands after officers ordered him to drop the hammer as he walked towards them.
He was shot twice after moving within two or three metres of one the officers with the hammer raised above his head, the Special Investigations Unit said previously in its report. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
After examining the incident, the SIU, which investigates fatal encounters with police, ruled in March 2016 the unnamed officer who fired the shots would not be charged. It determined the officer “feared for his life” and did not exceed “the ambit of justifiable force.”
His death prompted a 14-day protest by Black Lives Matter Toronto outside Toronto police headquarters, demanding the officers involved be identified and held accountable for the incident.
The group also called for greater scrutiny of police-involved shootings, including publicizing a video depicting the encounter, issuing an apology and financial compensation for Loku’s family. It was also instrumental in spurring a coroner’s inquest into Loku’s death.
“We’re hoping there will be tangible recommendations dealing with the implicit bias of how police conduct themselves with mental health issues and race,” said Black Action Defence Committee’s lawyer Selwyn Pieters.
Inquest to hear from 20 witnesses
Dr. James Edwards, regional supervising coroner for Central Region, Toronto East office was appointed to the inquest in April of 2016 and was tasked with examining the events surrounding Loku’s death.
The jury of five community members will likely be asked to craft recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths.
Loku’s inquest is expected to last three weeks and hears from 20 witnesses, according to a news release.
A handful of organizations have asked to participate as parties in the inquest, including the CMHA, the Black Action Defence Committee, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Empowerment Council, and Across Boundaries, an organization that provides support and services to racialized communities experiencing mental health problems.
‘He did not need to die’
The father of five, originally from South Sudan suffered from mental illness.
Loku struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being held and tortured by rebel forces there, but his condition had been stable for several years, the court heard today.
“As far as I’m concerned, he was well liked by everybody and had a reputation very contrary to the description that we have about the night in question,” said Across Boundaries’ lawyer Howard Morton.
But Blain told the court that blood and urine samples were taken from Loku subsequent to his death. Those samples revealed he had more than three times the legal alcohol limit in his blood – were he to be operating a motor vehicle.
Black Action Defence Committee co-founder, Kingsley Gilliam, says police are improperly trained to deal with people in crisis.
“He did not need to die,” he said. “They are ill-equipped. Their answers to these issues are to shoot and kill.”