It didn’t take long, ninety-five (95) days to be exact, for the IIU to catch its first fatal Police involved shooting case.
On September 21, 2015, Haki Sefa (44) died in what appears to be an armed confrontation with members of the WPS Tactical Support Team (TST).
News reports indicate Sefa was believed to be on his way to do harm to someone he thought had sexually assaulted a family member.
Reports indicate Sefa was confronted by the TST members on Highway 59 just north of Highway 44 at approximately 10:30 pm on Sunday evening.
Photographs taken by news media at the scene show a handgun on the roadway near the driver’s side door on Sefa’s white utility van.
It’s now up to the members of the newly formed IIU team to put the pieces of the puzzle together to tell an unbiased, detailed account of events relevant to Sefa’s shooting. The primary focus of the investigation will be to determine if Police were justified in using deadly force during their encounter with Sefa.
Weapon, Intent and Delivery System
Did Sefa pose a deadly threat to police at the time of the shooting?
In order for a deadly threat to exist, three (3) essential elements of the threat must be present – weapon, intent and delivery system.
- Did the suspect have a weapon?
- Did the suspect have the intent to use the weapon?
- Did the suspect have a delivery system or the ability to use the weapon to inflict grievous bodily harm or death?
In this case it seems these elements were present.
Does that mean the members of the TST team can sit back, relax and expect the IIU will find the shooting was justified?
You might want to ask Delta BC Police Tactical Team member Constable Jordan MacWilliams that question.
MacWilliams was the trigger in a Police involved shooting at the Starlight Casino in New Westminster in Nov 2012 that ended with the rescue of the hostage and the death of the hostage taker, later identified as Mehrdad Bayrami.
Bayrami not only took a woman hostage, he was armed and fired multiple shots during a five (5) hour standoff with Police.
None of that seemed to matter to the BC Independent Investigations Office (IIO) or the BC Crown who subsequently approved 2nd Degree Murder charges against MacWilliams.
The charges were highly perplexing and extremely controversial to Law Enforcement Officer’s in BC and across the nation.
The frustrations were clearly articulated by Crime & Punishment author Leo Knight who predicted the case would collapse before it ever went to trial.
Knight’s crystal ball was crystal clear.
On July 14, 2015, the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) of BC stayed the charges against MacWilliams.
In a statement, the CJB indicated, “the evidence no longer satisfies its charge approval standard for the continued prosecution.”
The CJB and IIO failed to offer any coherent justification for the nightmare they forced MacWilliams to endure.
Deadly Force & Subjective Analysis
Political agendas aside, part of the problem in the MacWilliams case may have been a general lack of understanding regarding the elements that constitute a deadly force encounter.
It’s easy to judge a man if you’ve never walked a mile in his shoes.
I often think back to my first deadly force encounter.
On January 28, 1989 I was a rookie cop in uniform patrol cruising the area of Hugo Street and Corydon Ave with my partner when we spotted a black pickup truck that matched the description of a stolen vehicle just used in an armed robbery.
The mounded snow on the rear bumper to obscure the licence plate was a dead give-a-way that told us all we needed to know.
As we pulled behind the suspect vehicle the driver hammered the gas and went for broke.
“Did you see that?” I asked my partner in disbelief, hoping my eyes had deceived me.
The suspect was armed with a shotgun and was observed to be moving it around in the cab of the truck.
The pursuit ended with a horrific crash at River Ave and Donald St and morphed into a one on one foot chase and a potential deadly force encounter.
As I chased the suspect under the Donald Street bridge I noticed he had a strap running over his shoulders. I assumed the strap was connected to the shotgun I’d seen moments earlier.
In every foot chase there comes a moment of recognition.
You recognize one of two things are going to happen:
- “I’m getting my ass kicked and this guy is getting away.”
- “I’m going to own this guy.”
In this case it was the latter, the suspect was slowing down and I knew I had plenty of gas left in the tank. When he came to the same realization he suddenly stopped in his tracks.
At this point I had my .38 calibre Smith & Wesson handgun drawn and pointing directly at his torso, the largest target available to me. I proceeded to issue the standard police challenge, “Police don’t move, get on the ground, get on the ground.”
There he stood, frozen stiff, like a victim of Medusa’s evil stare, his back to me, shoulder strap plainly visible and shotgun in hand, or so I assumed.
It was at this moment I realized my life was truly in danger.
I was almost certain I was going to be shot and killed.
I had no cover and no hope of avoiding the spreading pattern of a shotgun blast.
Everything started to move in super slow motion.
I knew he had a firearm, I was certain he was holding it in his hands and he was not listening to my commands, these were ingredients for a tragic ending. This was going to end badly I thought, for one of us at least.
I made up my mind right there, in that split second, “If this guy so much as turns towards me I’m going to open fire.”
I was not going to look down the barrel of that shotgun, I knew if I waited to see it before I reacted it was going to be too late.
I would find out later the bad ass robbery guy was paralyzed with fear and simply couldn’t move. I managed to take him into custody without either of us suffering so much as a scratch.
The shotgun had been disassembled during the pursuit and placed in a shoulder bag with live ammunition and proceeds of the armed robbery.
The culprit was a twenty-three (23) year old kid who’d seen a Crime Stoppers re-enactment of a holdup and figured it’d be a piece of cake to pull off.
He caught a four (4) year prison sentence to afford him some time to evaluate his decision.
I often wondered what the investigation would have looked like if I had shot and killed the young man.
I wondered how my use of deadly force would have been judged.
I wonder what the investigation would look like today, if the IIU were running it.
There’s no way of knowing, the past is the past.
What I do know is this, people who haven’t survived a deadly force encounter have little experience to rely upon to judge the actions of those who have. That’s precisely why it’s important that people with that kind of practical knowledge staff Independent Investigative Units.
Investigators with that kind of experience have the understanding and insight necessary to properly analyze such encounters.
Now that the Manitoba IIU is operational, policing in Manitoba for the 2,600 or so Police Officers working in this Province has changed forever.
The results of the IIU investigation into the shooting of Haki Sefa will shed much light on what direction that change is taking us.
Since the BC IIO became operational in September 2012, twenty-two (22) employees have left the Unit. The departures included seven (7) investigators and five (5) non-investigative staff.
At least three (3) investigators who were fired sued for wrongful dismissal and two settled their cases.
The agency has paid $172,198.66 in severance former employees.
In February 2015, the BC government launched a formal investigation into the operations of the IIO after receiving complaints about senior management, low morale, inconsistent policies and other problems.