A forensic jury ruled that Rodney Levi’s death in a police shooting last year was a homicide and issued recommendations on mental health and police training with the aim of avoiding similar deaths.
The recommendations covered three broad areas: Indigenous Police, Mental Health and for the RCMP.
They included changes to mobile psychiatric crisis teams to make it available to respond 24 hours a day, increase mental health training for RCMP cadets at the Depot Mountie training facility in Saskatchewan, establishment of detox and mental health centers at First Nations, more Taser police training and speeding up the rollout of body cameras for the RCMP nationally.
“We sincerely hope the RCMP adheres to and implements some of our recommendations,” said the jury, who read the recommendations. The judge expressed sympathy with Levi’s family.
Members of Levi’s family cried, hugged and clapped after reading the recommendations.
“We got what we wanted — apart from our brother,” Levi’s sister Linda told reporters after the investigation ended, while family members had photos of the 48-year-old.
“We are very pleased with the work done by the jury and how attentive they were,” said Rhoda Levi, another sister of Levi.
Levi, from Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation on the Miramichi River, was shot twice in the chest by RCMP Const. Scott Hait outside the residence of a church pastor on June 12, 2020 near Sunny Corner.
The trial, a quasi-judicial procedure with evidence and testimony, has heard from more than two dozen people since it began Sept. 28. The jury, consisting of three women and two men, was asked to determine Levi’s way of dying.
Death row president John Evans said accidental deaths could be ruled out, and the jury essentially left three options: murder, suicide or indeterminate.
He warned the jury that their role is not to find responsibility for Levi’s death, as a lawsuit is not a criminal or civil lawsuit.
Witnesses told the investigation that Levi had two kitchen knives that he would not drop, even after being tapped three times by Const. Justin Napke. The officers testified that Levi was moving towards Hait, who then shot Levi while the two were a few meters apart.
Levi’s family expressed dismay when the trial heard on Tuesday from a suicide expert who suggested Levi’s death could be considered a “suicide by a police officer” and said they were happy the jury instead declared his death a homicide.
“I’m just happy today that we can finally breathe,” said Rhoda Levi. “Just breathe, and remember our brother and that he did not want to die.”
The jury began deliberations Thursday morning, stopped overnight and resumed only a few minutes Friday morning before reaching a decision.
The recommendations touched on various aspects of testimony in the previous week.
Experts in RCMP training and the use of force had talked about how the RCMP gets 26 weeks of training at Depot, followed by about six months of field training, where they are paired with a mentor.
However, witnesses said, sometimes RCMP staffing issues can affect how much time a new officer and mentors can spend together. The jury called for much more training in the field and for more experienced officers to be paired with new officers.
Hait had completed training at Depot about eight months before the shooting. He was not trained to use a Taser, something the jury said should be done at the Depot.
The recommendations affected mental health mobile crisis teams with addiction and mental health social workers. Hait had asked the team in Miramichi to be sent after he arrived at the scene, but the investigation heard that the device was not deployed because it only got the mobile officers’ cell phone numbers and calls were missed.
The recommendations suggested changes in the way the device is shipped and when to insert it.
The jury also heard that some RCMP training is online-based with no element of a practical scenario.
Evans said he was pleased with the jury’s work. The recommendations will be given to the various governments or agencies they are related to, but it will be up to these organizations to decide whether to implement them.
The jury recommended:
- Reintroduction of the Aboriginal Band Constable Program, and until the RCMP uses a designated Aboriginal community connection;
- Counseling for witnesses, victims and family members at traumatic events is provided in a timely manner;
- First Nations communities receive increased mental health services and facilities;
- Detox facilities are made readily available in First Nations communities;
- That the RCMP in mental health checks at First Nations should not be the first responders, but be on standby for mobile health crisis units or an initial connection to this community;
- Mobile crisis units are sent in a similar way as other emergency services;
- For mental health control, the mobile crisis unit is sent along with other emergency services;
- Mental health and addiction information sessions are offered regularly in First Nations communities;
- The RCMP implements mandatory First Nation cultural sensitivity and awareness training at the depot level;
- The RCMP provides dedicated, uniformed liaison officers to each department with a First Nation community in its jurisdiction;
- Mandatory, scenario-based suicide intervention training for cadets;
- The RCMP accelerates the deployment of body cameras for all officers nationwide;
- RCMP implements Taser training at Depot;
- Increase the RCMP field training time from six months to a full year;
- The RCMP adopts training recommendations submitted by Sgt. Kelly Keith for the study;
- New RCMP officers are paired for field training with an officer with at least five years of experience;
- The RCMP is increasing its workforce;
- The crime scene is professionally cleaned by a cleaning service.