Family and friends of an Indigenous man shot dead by New Brunswick RCMP say they’re angered an investigation has found the June shooting was justified, and are demanding changes to the training officers receive for handling mental health calls.
Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old father from Metepenagiag First Nation, was killed by police called to a backyard barbecue at his pastor’s home near Sunny Corner, N.B., on June 12, 2020. Mr. Levi, who told people he was feeling depressed and acting on edge, was shot when he lunged at an officer while holding a pair of kitchen knives, according to a newly released report into his death.
After a six-month investigation by Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), New Brunswick’s Public Prosecution Services said Tuesday the police acted lawfully to protect the home’s residents and it will not pursue charges against any of the officers involved. The BEI was asked to investigate the shooting because New Brunswick does not have its own police watchdog agency.
“In our opinion, the peace officers in question were acting lawfully to protect the residents of the home on that fateful evening,” the province’s Office of the Attorney-General said in a statement.
After meeting with investigators Tuesday, some of Mr. Levi’s family were upset his death was being portrayed as a suicide wish.
“That was my Dad, and they shot him down and act like nothing,” Mr. Levi’s daughter, Shalisa Ward, said to a group of supporters outside the courthouse.
A lawyer for Mr. Levi’s family said they needed time to process the report, but insisted their fight for justice wasn’t over.
Mr. Levi’s death occurred eight days after the fatal shooting of another Indigenous person in New Brunswick, Chantel Moore. Ms. Moore, a 26-year-old originally from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, died during a late-night wellness check in Edmundston, N.B.
That case was also investigated by Quebec’s BEI, and her family are still waiting for answers on whether any charges will come from her death.
In both cases, police say officers were concerned for their safety because they were confronted by a person armed with a knife. The shootings prompted condemnation from Indigenous leaders across the country, and increased scrutiny of police interaction with racialized people.
The decision not to pursue criminal charges in Mr. Levi’s death was met with anger outside a courthouse in Miramichi, N.B., where Mr. Levi’s family was meeting with the BEI investigators. The meeting was organized by the Public Prosecution Services, and was intended to explain the Crown’s decision and allow the BEI investigators to present their findings.
In response to national interest in Mr. Levi’s case, the province took the rare step of releasing the BEI report. The 16-page document, summarizing statements from six witnesses, describes Mr. Levi as acting strangely and erratically at the barbecue, eventually grabbing two kitchen knives and refusing to drop them.
The first officer on scene was aware Mr. Levi was having a mental health issue and tried repeatedly to persuade him to put down the weapons. A second officer arrived and Mr. Levi was tasered twice, with little effect, according to the report. He was shot when he lunged at an officer, the report said.
“You’ll have to put a bullet in me,” the report quotes Mr. Levi as saying.
Mr. Levi’s supporters, many who had travelled to Miramichi from nearby Mi’kmaq communities, said they weren’t surprised the investigation didn’t find any wrongdoing by police. They say those reviews all too often fail Indigenous people.
“The scales are always tipped against Indigenous people in the justice system when it comes to fairness and equality,” said Malcolm Ward, a friend of Mr. Levi who had gathered at the courthouse.
“Rodney should still be alive … It’s the system. The whole justice system is corrupted.”
New Brunswick’s top RCMP commander, Larry Tremblay, said the use of force is not taken lightly and scrutiny of police actions is important. His officers should be accountable to the public, and undergo “rigorous and continual training” to ensure they can respond appropriately in difficult situations, he added.
“When we have to make those decisions to take those actions, regardless of the outcome, we carry that for the rest of our lives. We live with public conjecture and speculation about how things could have been handled differently, which impact people’s trust in law enforcement, and our own mental health,” he said.
New Brunswick’s Office of the Chief Coroner is planning an inquest into Mr. Levi’s death. That’s a public process that will review the evidence around his death, including witness testimony, and make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
Ms. Moore’s family say they haven’t been given a copy of the investigation report into her death, which was completed by the BEI more than a month ago. The province’s Public Prosecution Services is still reviewing the report, and has not committed to releasing it publicly.
Not knowing the full circumstances of her death has been difficult, said Judith Sayers, a spokesperson for the family.
“It’s been horrible,” she said. “We don’t know what happened on June 4. We’ve been asking, asking and asking what exactly happened. The same questions are haunting them.”
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