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John Lehman

One of the police officers who confronted a schizophrenic Vancouver man who was swinging a two-by-four at a busy intersection suggested during testimony at a coroners inquest on Tuesday that he and his partner had no choice but to shoot the man.

Phuong Na (Tony) Du, 51, was shot on Nov. 22, 2014, after officers responded to a 911 call about a distraught man. One of the officers fired beanbag rounds at Mr. Du before the second officer shot him. Mr. Du died in hospital.

The shooting, which was caught on video by a bystander, prompted calls for changes to the way police respond to calls involving people with mental illness. Prosecutors announced last year that the officers involved would not face charges.

Constable Trevor Letourneau, the officer who fired the beanbag rounds, told a coroners jury that Mr. Du did not comply when ordered by the officers to stop moving and drop the length of wood he was holding. Instead, Mr. Du continued to move toward police, pointing the two-by-four at them, the inquest heard.

Const. Letourneau, who has spent 12 years with the Vancouver Police Department, told the jury Mr. Du looked calm and approachable when the officers first arrived. Mr. Du was waving them over from their cruiser, he said, with the two-by-four planted on the ground.

Lawyers at the inquest asked Const. Letourneau repeatedly why he didn't approach Mr. Du prior to firing his weapon.

"There was no time, no opportunity" to try anything else, he said. "I wish there was time to communicate."

Const. Letourneau said he had only fired the beanbag weapon twice prior to his interaction with Mr. Du. In both cases, the targets ran away because of the pain, he said, but Mr. Du did not stop.

As Mr. Du approached to about eight feet from the officers, Const. Letourneau said, he heard the other officer fire three shots. Mr. Du dropped to the ground and was placed in handcuffs as the officers waited for paramedics. He later died in hospital.

Const. Letourneau noted he did receive mandatory de-escalation training, which involved making empathetic contact with a person in distress, using verbal communication and limiting force. He said he completed a four-day course at some point in 2012 or 2014, or possibly both.

Const. Letourneau said he would have preferred to solve the incident by talking, but reiterated that he believed he had no other option, given the circumstances.

Late in the questioning, he turned to Mr. Du's family and acknowledged their grief during the inquest. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said, struggling to maintain composure.

Joseph Tobias, who recorded the video of the shooting, told the jury Mr. Du did not seem violent. "I never felt threatened one bit standing next to him and neither should have anyone else."

With files from The Canadian Press

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