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Public inquest into death of man during violent confrontation with Vancouver police set to begin

A public inquiry into the death of a man who was killed during a violent encounter with as many as nine Vancouver police officers is set to begin Monday — proceedings that could see the officers publicly answer questions for the first time in more than seven years about what happened.

The coroner’s inquest is examining the death of Myles Gray, 33, who died during a confrontation with police in a Burnaby, B.C., backyard on Aug. 13, 2015.

Gray’s injuries were so severe an autopsy couldn’t determine exactly how he died. Police were the only people who saw what transpired in the minutes leading up to Gray’s death but refused to co-operate with the watchdog’s investigation for years.

The silence could come to an end during the coroner’s inquest. All of the officers involved in the call that summer are scheduled to give evidence over the course of the week.

The inquest is meant to answer the enduring question of how Gray died and whether anything could be done to prevent others from dying in the same way, according to the province. It will also be another step in a case that has been mired in allegations of interference and raised concerns around police accountability when it comes to investigations of their own.

Discipline hearing postponed to fall, police say

Gray was in town to make a delivery for his Sechelt-based florist business the day he died. Police were called after he confronted a homeowner for watering her lawn during the summer’s extended drought.

In the fight that followed, officers restrained Gray’s arms and legs, punched, kicked and kneed him, pepper-sprayed him and struck him with a baton, according to a report from the B.C. Prosecution Service.

His injuries included a fractured voice box, several broken bones, brain hemorrhaging and a ruptured testicle. The next day, police described Gray as having been “distraught” and “agitated.”

After an investigation, the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. forwarded a report to Crown, believing there were grounds to charge some of the officers with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

A woman in a purple dress stands with her hands folded in front of a concrete wall.
Margie Gray, the mother of Myles Gray, is pictured in Vancouver on Oct. 11. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Prosecutors declined to bring any of those charges. A statement said they concluded a conviction wasn’t reasonably likely without stronger, more consistent evidence or a concrete cause of death.

Crown noted inconsistent evidence from the officers involved, who had all refused to speak to the watchdog’s investigators.

After prosecutors declined to bring charges, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner in B.C. reopened its investigation.

The external police chief in charge of that file later found seven of the nine police officers might have abused their authority by using unnecessary force on Gray and could face discipline as severe as losing their jobs if those allegations were proven.

Metro Vancouver Transit Police Chief David Jones also determined six of those officers might have neglected their duty by failing to take any written notes about what happened to Gray, according to an executive summary of Jones’s findings obtained by CBC News last month.

A discipline hearing was expected to begin in early April, but Transit Police on Friday confirmed it has been postponed — likely until the fall.

There have also been allegations of interference in relation to Gray’s case. Several of the officers who were at the scene said they didn’t take proper notes about the incident because senior union representatives told them so. Firefighters who were first on the scene also said police told them not to check on Gray as he lay on the ground.

The coroner’s inquest is set to hear from more than 40 witnesses over two weeks, ranging from people in his personal life to police officers to an autopsy pathologist.

Gray’s sister, Melissa, will speak first on Monday. His mother, Margie, declined interviews ahead of the inquiry.

A coroner’s inquest is not the same as a criminal trial. It is meant to determine the facts around a death, not to assign fault.

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