It was a fateful event that tested Vancouver’s top cop on his first day on the job.
Hours after Jim Chu became the city’s police chief in August, 2007, he found himself dealing with a controversial shooting that involved police: Paul Boyd, a 39-year-old illustrator, died on a Vancouver street after an officer shot him eight times.
On Thursday, in his first statements to the media after being out of the country, Chief Chu recounted his feelings watching video of the shooting that surfaced this week.
“I was very disturbed by the video,” he said. “It was very troubling to see that.”
The grainy night-time images begin with a gunshot, and Mr. Boyd on his knees. After a police officer appears to retrieve a bicycle chain with which Mr. Boyd had earlier struck another officer, Mr. Boyd crawls toward police. Twenty-three seconds later, with a vehicle blocking the camera’s view of the illustrator, another gunshot is heard.
Mr. Boyd had a history of mental illness and had not taken his medication that day.
The video, shot by a tourist, contradicts a report by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in March that stated Mr. Boyd ran into the street and continued to swing the bicycle chain as officers approached.
Constable Lee Chipperfield – who fired nine shots in 80 seconds, eight of which struck Mr. Boyd – had said he believed Mr. Boyd was a threat.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team was appointed this week to review the investigation, and the B.C. Coroners Service and the complaints commission have said they will reopen their probes.
Chief Chu, who said he visited Mr. Boyd’s family and apologized in the days after the shooting, on Thursday made a promise to the family that, should the review yield enough evidence to lay a charge, the department’s response “will be appropriate and made without delay.”
“If the status quo is confirmed, we will still see this as a defining moment in our organization – one, though sad, that is an opportunity for us to improve and go forward, committed to the support of our members in their difficult job to protect and serve those suffering from mental illness,” he said.
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said on Thursday he was heartened to learn of the police chief’s apology to the family, and his vow to learn from the tragedy. However, he expressed concern that the complaints commission took as fact Constable Chipperfield’s claim that Mr. Boyd was “practically vertical” at the time of the fatal shot – despite testimony to the contrary from a forensic pathologist.
“What I didn’t hear was that Chief Chu is assembling the senior officials who were involved in this investigation, and this incident, and the witness officers, and asking for an explanation for why the witness notes are so different – if they are – from what the video tape shows,” he said.
“Because if they are different, it shows that his officers are having a problem accurately recalling events and there may be a need for retraining. Or, it may be a question of integrity.
“They can’t sit back and let the external investigators solve all their problems on this file; they need to take some accountability responsibility internally for their failures as well.”
Mr. Eby also questioned why it took the release of the video for officials to take a closer look at the investigation when there was enough evidence and witness testimony to raise serious questions.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver police department has taken the unusual step of launching a website with information on the case. Called “The Events in the Death of Paul Boyd,” the site contains a timeline of events, media releases and publicly available reports from reviews and investigations.
“We hope that it is a helpful resource for those of us who are still grappling with how this tragedy could have happened,” Chief Chu said.
The events of Aug. 13, 2007, began shortly after 9 p.m., when police received several 911 calls about a disturbance at a restaurant on Granville Street and West 16th Avenue.
Police arrived to find Mr. Boyd with a bicycle chain and a hammer in hand, the latter of which he dropped after police challenged him at gunpoint. Mr. Boyd then struck an officer in the head with the bicycle chain. A violent struggle ensued, in which Mr. Boyd traded blows with several police officers.
Police say Mr. Boyd continued to advance after being shot several times, which led Constable Chipperfield to believe he was wearing body armour. Around 9:30 p.m., Mr. Boyd was shot in the head. He died at the scene.
Constable Chipperfield now works in the department’s forensic identification unit, Chief Chu said. He underwent a “training and recertification process” and still has a gun.