SIU clears officer in connection with shooting death of Stoney Creek, Ont. landlord
Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared a Hamilton police officer who was involved in the shooting death of a landlord who fatally shot two of his tenants in May.
On May 27, a man and woman in Stoney Creek, Ont. were fatally shot after fleeing their home at around 5:40 p.m. in the area of Jones Road and Barton Street, following an alleged dispute with their landlord.
After an hours-long standoff, the landlord was fatally shot by a uniformed officer. Under section 34 of the Criminal Code, an individual can use force to defend themselves or others if it is believed on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or others.
Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Director Joseph Martino found the officer’s lethal use of force against the landlord “fell within the ambit of legally justified force prescribed by the provision.”
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Hamilton police later identified the victims as 27-year-old Carissa MacDonald and 28-year-old Aaron Stone, who were engaged to one another. CTV News Toronto later identified the homeowner as Terry Brekka, after obtaining records to the property.
“There had been a falling out among them regarding a reported issue in the area of the house where the tenants resided, and who was going to pay for damage done to some property in and around the home,” the SIU said.
Hamilton police previously confirmed that the dispute stemmed from a mold issue in the tenant’s unit, prompting the tenants to raise health concerns.
When it became clear MacDonald and Stone were not going to pay for the damage, Brekka went to his home and returned with a gun, according to the SIU report.
“He first shot Tenant #2 and then turned his weapon at Tenant #1, discharging it multiple times in her direction as she ran away,” the SIU said, adding he fired several more times before returning to his home.
Police were called and set up a perimeter around the house. Crisis negotiators and a team of Emergency Response Unit (ERU) officers also attended the scene.
“There ensued an hours-long standoff in the course of which negotiators attempted, with limited success, to reach the Complainant inside the home,” the SIU said.
According to the civilian agency, during the standoff, the landlord asked whether or not the tenants were dead and asked for police to apologize to the families, as well as demand ERU’s armoured vehicle to leave.
Police did not heed that request, but the armoured vehicle did reverse a distance on the driveway further away from the residence.
The SIU noted that the subject official (SO), the Hamilton police officer under review, was with the crew inside the armoured vehicle, adding that he was speaking with family members.
“(Brekka) repeatedly apologized for what he had done, indicated he would not emerge from his predicament alive, and suggested he would fight the police,” the report reads.
Police were made aware that he owned several handguns and rifles – some of which may be unregistered.
At around 10:10 p.m., the SIU said the landlord fired multiple rounds in the direction of the armoured vehicle from inside the house.
Just over 20 minutes later, he fired another round of shots through the front door – again at the armoured vehicle.
During this time, the SO, who was behind the turret hatch, aimed at the hole in the residence’s front door where the gunfire appeared to be coming from. The SIU said the officer fired a single round from his HK416 rifle, and the shooting stopped instantly.
The landlord was “mortally wounded,” the SIU said.
After the shooting, officials said ERU officers used the armoured vehicle’s ram to break through the front door of the home and a robot was sent inside to search for the landlord.
The SIU said that the robot first found two rifles in the foyer of the house before it found the landlord in the garage, unresponsive.
The civilian agency collected cartridges, projectile fragments, and the involved firearms from the scene. In a firearms report to the SIU on Aug. 4, it was determined the Scorpion pistols and the DPMS Panther Arms rifle were prohibited firearms.
Officers from the ERU rammed through the garage and found the landlord, lifeless, as well as additional firearms, ammunition, and magazines. The SIU said he died on scene just before midnight.
“The pathologist at autopsy was of the preliminary view that the (landlord’s) death was attributable to a gunshot wound to the torso,” a release reads.
Martino found no reasonable grounds to believe the Hamilton officer committed a crime in connection with the landlord’s death, under section 34 of the Criminal Code.
The director said “conduct that would otherwise constitute an offence is legally justified if it was intended to deter a reasonably apprehended assault, actual or threatened, and was itself reasonable.”
The report noted it is an officer’s “foremost obligation” to protect and preserve life.
“There is no doubt that the SO acted to defend himself, his colleagues, and the general public from a reasonably apprehended attack when he shot (the landlord),” the report reads, adding the landlord was firing through his front door with officers and civilians within his line of fire.
“In the circumstances, the officer had every reason to believe that his life, and the life of third-parties, was in imminent peril and that responsive force was required to defend against loss of life or grievous bodily harm.”
Martino also said his use of his firearm was reasonable under these circumstances since they were under “heavy fire.” Since it appeared negotiations were not going to go anywhere, and retreat wasn’t possible without endangering others in the neighbourhood, the SIU determined the officer’s use of the firearm was the only “reasonable chance” of ceasing gunfire.
“On this record, I am satisfied that the SO’s decision to match lethal force with lethal force of his own as a commensurate and proportionate response to the exigencies of the moment,” the report reads, adding the file is closed.
With files from Hannah Alberga and Joanna Lavoie
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