Skip to main content

A man who was shot dead by police after he waved a machete on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside had been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, but was not treated for mental-health issues in the months leading up to his death.

Darrell Elroy Barnes died on July 22, 2011, at the age of 48.

Mr. Barnes was walking down a public street holding the machete when he was approached by Vancouver police. He ignored orders to drop the weapon and was hit by six beanbag rounds.

Mr. Barnes remained on his feet and approached police swinging the blade, leading two officers to fire their pistols. He was pronounced dead in hospital.

Susan Frith of B.C.'s Ministry of Social Development told a coroner's inquest Tuesday that the province was familiar with Mr. Barnes because he received income assistance.

She said he advised the ministry in 2008 that he was manic depressive, addicted to drugs, and prone to seizures. A doctor's note said he also suffered from anxiety.

In 2009, Mr. Barnes was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. But at the time of his death he was not seeing a physician and had not had a prescription filled for at least one year.

The inquest began Monday and testimony wrapped Tuesday afternoon. The five-person jury cannot, by law, make findings of legal responsibility or assess blame. The jury can, however, make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.

The jury heard that Mr. Barnes was leading an isolated life – he had no contact with his parents or his son. One psychiatric assessment said he had low self-esteem and the chronic drug user had previously attempted to commit suicide.

Angela Chung, an RCMP toxicologist who examined samples taken from Mr. Barnes after his death, said there was alcohol, cocaine and heroin in his system. She said he had consumed enough alcohol that she would have expected him to have slurred speech and trouble walking.

While heroin was present, Ms. Chung said, it was not consumed as recently as the cocaine, which was taken within 12 hours of the confrontation.

"An individual who is a chronic high-dose user of cocaine, there have been studies to show that they may potentially undergo a toxic cocaine psychosis, or something known as excited delirium syndrome," she said. "There's a change in mental status of the individual. They become very aggressive and very combative. In this stage, some people describe it as the individuals feel like they have superhuman strength and are kind of not aware of what's going on around them."

Corporal Dave Campbell of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team was the final person to testify at the inquest. His agency was called in to investigate the Vancouver police shooting.

Cpl. Campbell, who led the investigation, said Mr. Barnes had an extensive criminal record. He said Mr. Barnes served time in an Ontario prison for manslaughter.

Cpl. Campbell said his team was tasked with determining whether the two officers who fired the fatal shots should face criminal charges.

"Our conclusions were that the force used by both Constable Kirk Longstaffe and Constable Kim Menzies fell within the structure of their use of force training," he said.

In her instructions to the jury, presiding coroner Marj Paonessa suggested the death be classified as a homicide, "a neutral term that does not imply fault or blame."

She said a handwritten note was found in Mr. Barnes's room after his death. However, she said it could not be determined when it was written.

Ms. Paonessa did not disclose what the note said.