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This article was published 28/1/2021 (354 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The father of an Indigenous teen, who was fatally shot after a liquor store robbery and high-speed chase in rush-hour traffic last year, said he was certain the police watchdog's investigation would not yield criminal charges against the Winnipeg officer who pulled the trigger.
During an emotional news conference Thursday, William Hudson, the father of Eishia Hudson, said he "knew what the decision was going to be before hearing the report."
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba had announced the unnamed Winnipeg Police Service officer was not criminally culpable in the April 8, 2020, shooting.
The officer fired two rounds at Hudson after responding to a robbery at the Sage Creek liquor store. One of the bullets struck the teenager in the shoulder and lodged in her spinal column.
The officer refused to sit down for an interview with the watchdog during its 10-month probe. None of the police officers involved in the incident will be charged.
IIU civilian director Zane Tessler held a rare news conference in which he said his team interviewed more than 20 witnesses, including passengers in the vehicle, recordings of a 911 call, and police radio transmissions; and reviewed video footage. The file was sent to Manitoba Prosecution Services, which determined there were "no grounds to justify any charges against the subject officer for his use of lethal force."
Eishia was shot near Lagimodiere Boulevard and Fermor Avenue during the pursuit of a stolen vehicle. Eishia was behind the wheel of the vehicle in which four teenagers were passengers. During the pursuit, the vehicle crashed into multiple other vehicles, including at least one police cruiser.
The IIU said cellphone video of the shooting taken by an eyewitness was "the most crucial piece of evidence" in the case.
In his prepared statement submitted to the IIU, the police officer who fired the fatal shot said he was concerned about his safety and that of a fellow officer.
Statement of WPS Chief Danny Smyth on Hudson's death
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth issued a statement on the death Thursday afternoon
"Eishia Hudson’s death was tragic. Let’s not forget Eishia Hudson was a teenager. A lot of people cared about her; I want to acknowledge her family and friends. On that day, Eishia got caught up with a bunch of kids in a stolen vehicle, and things escalated. A lot of people were put in harm’s way, including the kids in the stolen vehicle, innocent bystanders that worked in the liquor store or happened to be in traffic, and the police officers who were trying to intervene. The circumstances led to a split-second decision to use lethal force to stop the scenario from escalating further. All of us would have liked the outcome to be different. I speak as a member of the community, and I speak as a member and the leader of the police service.
The IIU investigation focused on the conduct of the police officers involved. Justice officials have determined that they conducted themselves lawfully and appropriately under those escalating circumstances.
The Medical Examiner will call for an Inquest in the near future. The Inquest will have a broader look at the circumstances that lead to Eishia’s death and may make recommendations to prevent situations like this in the future. The WPS will fully cooperate and participate in the Inquest." - Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth
"The suspect continues to stare at me, cranks the wheel of the suspect vehicle, and reverses quickly causing the front of the vehicle to rapidly spin towards us," the officer said in his submitted statement.
"I believe she was attempting to strike us with the front of the vehicle in order to cause us grievous bodily harm or death as she had already displayed her disregard for human life."
Several critics of the IIU’s findings, including the Hudson family, Indigenous leaders and lawyers, say the cellphone footage of the shooting appears to contradict the officer’s statement.
When asked about the discrepancy, Tessler said it is "commonplace for someone to get a recollection wrong."
"In sum total, when you add in and factor in the video… I’m satisfied that, on the whole, all of the evidence does make sense and supports the findings," Tessler said.
The teen's father said he watched the video repeatedly Wednesday night.
“For a parent to watch that video over and over and hear those gunshots take your daughter’s life.” — William Hudson, the father of Eishia Hudson
"The report states the footage is the most reliable piece of evidence. The statement from the subject officer and his recollection does not add up with the video footage. Look at the statement. Watch the video. They do not go together," Hudson said.
"For a parent to watch that video over and over and hear those gunshots take your daughter’s life."
Hudson was joined at the press conference by NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, Winnipeg NDP MP Leah Gazan and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. All three of them denounced the IIU’s findings and said changes must be made to the police watchdog.
"We have issues of systemic racism. We have known this since the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry… The system has failed Eishia Hudson. The system continues to fail Indigenous people. They have failed this family," Gazan said.
"We need to seriously address this by making necessary changes to the system, which includes reviewing the very close relationship the IIU has with prosecutors and the police. We have known this is an issue for a long, long time."
Kris Saxberg, legal counsel for Hudson’s family, said they want a new investigation, which would be conducted by an independent out-of-province body.
"The question is: Was it reasonable for the officer who shot to think his life was in imminent risk or in imminent risk of grievous bodily harm, and so were the other officers? Is it reasonable to conclude that when the actual officers there, the other five, they didn’t think so?" Saxberg asked.
"They didn’t shoot."
Saxberg took issue with the idea the probe was "independent," given that most IIU investigators are ex-cops, the head of the agency is a former Crown prosecutor, and the unnamed use-of-force expert asked to weigh in on the case reportedly had a "law enforcement background."
An inquest is expected to be held into Hudson’s death, but Saxberg said in addition, he wants the province to call a public inquiry.
He said a lawsuit will be filed in civil court.
In a written statement, police Chief Danny Smyth said the teen's death was tragic, adding the officer made a "split-second decision to use lethal force to stop the scenario from escalating further."
"All of us would have liked the outcome to be different. I speak as a member of the community, and I speak as a member and leader of the police service," Smyth said.
Dumas said he was aghast that the police officer wasn't required to answer a single question from investigators. He said changes must be made to the Police Services Act in Manitoba to put an end to that practice, which he said effectively gives police "immunity."
"It’s truly unfortunate that making erroneous decisions as a child can lead to a death sentence in Manitoba," Dumas said.
"I encourage everybody to watch the video and read the report and you will see the contradictory statements. You’ll see why everyone is so concerned and upset."
Hudson was one of three people fatally shot by Winnipeg officers in a 10-day period in April 2020. The other two were Jason Collins, 36, and Stewart Kevin Andrews, 22.
The watchdog's investigations into the fatal shootings of Collins and Andrews haven't been completed.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.