August 10, 2020

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Inquest may tell us what police refuse to say

Mark Dicesare

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2017 (1277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was a sunny Saturday in November 2015, as I remember it, the day after the police-involved shooting death of a deeply troubled 24-year-old man who had been surrounded in a large field just near one of the city’s busiest intersections.

The then-deputy chief Danny Smyth was holding a rare weekend news conference at the Public Safety Building. The 19 police vehicles that had boxed in Mark Dicesare and his now bullet-riddled Audi, were still stranded in that field. I remember that because, during his Q&A with the few reporters who showed up for a debrief on the tragic event, Smyth said he was hoping to have his frozen fleet back on the road later that day. As soon as the Independent Investigations Unit was finished its work with the vehicles still parked in the place where five police officers opened fire with their carbines, handguns and a shotgun.

The handsome, likeable bodybuilder, reportedly depressed over the breakup with his girlfriend, was hit nine times.

Smyth didn’t tell us that at the time.

Back then, he couldn’t have had every detail, and besides, based on the way the Winnipeg Police Service deals with the media, Smyth wouldn’t have shared it if he did. But, I remember thinking the head of the crime division must know that none of his officers could be blamed for what happened, much less held criminally responsible.

I was thinking that because of how relaxed Smyth was while answering questions after what had to have been a traumatic time for the five cops who had to use their weapons. And watch a man fall, mortally wounded.

Later, on the way home from the news conference, I would pull over and call Smyth. I had thought of another question. Citizens who witnessed the initial 20-minute-plus police pursuit that finished in the field had posted video online even as it was happening.

I asked Smyth if police took any video of their own while the standoff was going on.

He said they hadn’t.

That surprised me. After all, once they stopped Dicesare, there were reportedly 25 officers in those 19 police vehicles and the young man in the white car not only had a weapon but was suicidal. And the standoff that went on for at least 23 minutes never appeared as if it would end well; not when Dicesare was asked more than 30 times to drop his weapon. But, even if police didn’t have an Ident officer on scene with a professional camera, surely someone in charge might have thought to make sure at least one of his guys pulled out his cellphone and recorded what was happening. You know, so if police were forced to shoot the drugged-up and distraught young man, they would have evidence to prove they had no choice.

Smyth didn’t seem to be impressed by that logic, and that was the end of that. At least for the next 16 months, anyway. Until Thursday, when the investigative unit called its news conference, and I asked its civilian director, Zane Tessler, if his investigators’ collection of a half-dozen or so videos from citizens was helpful.

"It assisted," he said.

I asked if they had any video of the actual shooting.

"I’m not aware of any video capturing the actual shooting," Tessler said.

"But one of the most important pieces of information we were able to gather was the 32-minute, 911 call through his active line on his phone."

Tessler was referring to Dicesare’s cellphone.

"That," the director continued, "gave us a significant insight into the conversations that occurred from about 12:29 p.m. right through to…"

When Dicesare got out of the passenger side of the Audi for the second time, and after pointing his unloaded Uzi look-alike B.B. gun at his chin for the second time, all but gave police the order to shoot, "I’m going to have you guys do it for me. I’m so sorry."

As Tessler described it, Dicesare pointed what turned out to be a harmless weapon, and police had no choice but to shoot, as they’re trained to.

Still, that moment was only captured by audio despite this being a video age — a time when police officers are being equipped with body cameras. Although, not in Winnipeg, where police would rather spend their budget on an armoured vehicle that protects them, than body cameras that protect us all.

Camera-shy cops, maybe?

Anyway, Thursday afternoon, I sent an email with a series of questions for police that were left over from Tessler’s news conference. Some of them were leftovers from that Saturday morning chat 16 months ago with Smyth, who is now the police chief.

What follows is the answer the police service’s public information office offered in response to those questions.

"Given that many of the questions you’ve asked are central to the investigation, the chief will not be providing a comment."

Actually, I have a few other questions about circumstances surrounding Dicesare’s death, but I think they’re probably better handled at the inquest.

Where, I’ll remind you, police will have to answer them — all of them.


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