Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grief and outrage

Police didn't have to shoot teen suspect: witnesses

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THE family of an 18-year-old aboriginal man shot and killed by police Monday in the North End say their youngest son didn't have to die when he reportedly confronted an officer with a weapon that witnesses said was a black-handled screwdriver.

The parents of Matthew Adam Joseph Dumas said yesterday police have promised them a full investigation into the fatal shooting, but they already believe the officer may have overreacted.

Police Const. Bob Johnson said homicide detectives will send all possible evidence about Dumas's death to an external police agency for an independent review. It hasn't yet been decided which agency will investigate the shooting.

Outraged native leaders said Dumas's death is a signal the rift between city police and aboriginal people still hasn't healed 16 years after the police shooting of J.J. Harper.

What's galvanized aboriginal groups are witnesses who say Dumas may have been shot as he raised his right hand holding the screwdriver to apparently wipe his eyes of pepper spray.

Before the confrontation, Dumas was being sought by police as a suspect in a street mugging.

Police said yesterday two shots were fired at Dumas from a .40-calibre Glock pistol, not one shot as reported yesterday.

"There has to have been some way this should have been avoided," mother Carol Chartrand told reporters on the back step of the family's North End home.

"I'm trying not be spiteful," she added. "I'm just going through these mixed emotions. I'm angry. I want to cry. I want to kick somebody."

Dumas's stepfather, Leslie Chartrand, said police came to their home at 9 p.m. Monday to tell them about their son's death almost six hours earlier on a Dufferin Avenue sidewalk during a confrontation with three police officers.

"Why can't three police officers handle a little guy?" Chartrand asked. "Why shoot him? Aren't they trained to subdue people? Do they shoot first and then ask questions?"

The parents said police have shared little information about what happened, but hope more details will come out in the coming weeks and at the mandatory provincial inquest into the matter.

"I just lost my son and now I have to make plans to bury him," Leslie Chartrand said. "His life was too short."

Provincial Court records indicate Dumas spent five days at the Winnipeg Remand Centre last fall after he was arrested for carrying a knife. He pleaded guilty Oct. 6 to possession of a weapon dangerous to the public peace. He was also placed on one year of supervised probation and ordered not to possess weapons.

His mother said he had also been convicted of auto theft when he was 15 and spent time in custody at the Manitoba Youth Centre.

His parents also said he was living with his grandmother -- his last address was on Flora Avenue -- but he visited the family home often. The last time they saw their youngest of five children alive was Saturday for an evening of karaoke.

"It kept him off the streets on a Saturday night," Carol said. "They decided to stay here with us old folks."

She also said her son was not involved with a street gang.

"Whenever it's about native youth it's always gang, gang, gang," she said. "They only gang he had was his gang family -- the people that loved him."

Dumas had left Isaac Newton School in Grade 10 and was planning to work with his father as a roofer.

Carol said her son may have confronted police because he didn't want to be placed inside the remand centre.

"I guess he didn't want to go back there," she said.

Police have said Dumas was shot when he apparently confronted an officer with a weapon during a foot chase.

Early reports said Dumas appeared to lunge at one of three officers at the scene. However, witnesses Crystal McManus and Selena Harper said yesterday they believed Dumas raised his hand, which was holding the screwdriver, to wipe his eyes after one of the officers shot pepper spray in his face. The officers had chased him from the area of King Street and Dufferin as he was a suspect in a mugging in Elmwood more than an hour earlier.

"They didn't have to shoot him," McManus said. "He had a screwdriver in his right hand and he brought his right arm to shoulder height. Honestly, it looked to me he was trying to wipe his eyes."

McManus, who gave a videotaped interview to police yesterday afternoon, said she was walking east on the sidewalk on the north side of Dufferin when an officer with his pistol drawn passed beside her.

She said he also walked past two young children playing in the snow in front of 519 Dufferin. No one else was on the street.

She said the officer said nothing to her or the children about imminent danger.

McManus said that, moments before, she had seen police in the back lane at Andrews Street with three males apparently in custody, standing near a cruiser car.

She said she continued walking east to pay her rent and, as she did, she heard on the police radio of a nearby officer that one suspect was still at large and was armed.

She said that's when she heard the officer's holster snap open.

As she continued walking, she said she saw two other officers emerge from between two houses farther down Dufferin and start walking towards the officer who had his pistol drawn.

Seconds later, Dumas also walked out onto the street, between the three officers.

An officer on Dumas's right side reached in front of him and blasted him three times with pepper spray, said McManus.

She said Dumas continued walking despite being sprayed, the two officers behind him and the officer with a pulled gun backing up in front of Dumas.

One or more of the officers kept ordering Dumas to "drop your weapon," she said. She said Dumas then appeared to reach up to wipe his eyes and was shot twice in the stomach or chest area.

The medical examiner did not release autopsy results yesterday.

"I stood there in shock," she said. "I looked down at him and remember looking at the screwdriver. He just dropped like a bag of bricks when he was shot. He was crying and moaning. I can't get that out of my mind."

McManus said one of the officers walking behind Dumas could have hit him in the back of his legs with a baton instead of shooting him.

She also said the officers attended to Dumas immediately, ignoring her as she stood there.

"It felt like it lasted forever," she said. "No one came to talk to me. It was like I was a ghost."

Paramedics arrived and rushed Dumas to Children's Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police say they also seized a knife near the scene, but it's not known if Dumas dropped it during the foot chase.

McManus said she walked away from the scene and soon called her mother Vera Houle, a former Association of Manitoba Chiefs communications adviser who is now working at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Houle said she called police Chief Jack Ewatski yesterday morning and detectives soon called back to speak with her daughter.

Johnson added the three officers have been placed on administrative leave by Ewatski and will return to work subject to their own well-being and the course of the internal investigation. Counselling has also been made available to them.

"This is a very sensitive issue not only for the victim, but the officers involved," Johnson said.

Dumas was singled out for an arrest after a street mugging on Martin Avenue at about 1:30 p.m. A group of males left the scene in a taxi.

A spokesman for Spring Taxi yesterday declined to speak about the incident, citing the police investigation. It's not known if police seized a video from the cab's interior camera.

Police have said officers spotted the suspects near the area of the Lord Selkirk public housing complex, chasing Dumas west on foot to Dufferin Avenue.

Johnson said yesterday he could not comment on whether Dumas was indeed a suspect in the Martin Avenue robbery or if anyone else had been arrested.

Selena Harper, who watched part of the incident from the front window of her Dufferin residence, said the three officers, one of them a female, pinned Dumas to the ground seconds after he was shot.

"One of the officers had his knee on the man's back," Harper said. "The ambulance came and they tried to resuscitate him, but I don't think he was alive when he went to hospital."

She also said she doesn't believe Dumas had to be shot.

"They didn't have to shoot him," she said, breaking into tears. "There was no knife, there was a screwdriver."

Although it hasn't yet been decided which outside police agency will review Monday's shooting, the RCMP were called in to investigate a Winnipeg police shooting of Donald Miles outside a North End gas station on Nov. 5, 2001. The officers involved in the incident were absolved of any wrongdoing. One of them shot Miles, also an aboriginal, as he lunged at an officer with a knife.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2005 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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