Native protester Dudley George was unarmed when he was killed by a police bullet, and the officer who shot him knew it, only to lie about it in court later, a provincial court judge said yesterday.
Judge Hugh Fraser said that acting Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Kenneth Deane's testimony about the events just before and after he shot Mr. George at the gates of Ipperwash Provincial Park on Sept. 6, 1995, was false, as was the testimony given by at least two of his fellow officers.
In giving his reasons for finding Sgt. Deane guilty of criminal negligence causing death, Judge Fraser said: "I find that you weren't honest in the statements you gave to the police, you weren't honest in statements you gave to the SIU [the province's Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police use of deadly force]and you weren't honest in statements you made to this court."
The judge said that the testimony given by Sgt. Deane and some other OPP officers who testified on his behalf reflected efforts to, "concoct a story . . . in an ill-fated attempt to disguise the fact that an unarmed man had been shot."
Sgt. Deane and his lawyer were not available for comment. But provincial police union president Brian Adkin said Sgt. Deane will appeal.
The many relatives and friends of Mr. George in the packed courtroom let out a loud cheer when the verdict was read, a cheer that gave way to sobs as they embraced each other, celebrating the words many did not expect to hear.
Sgt. Deane's expression changed little from the stoic demeanour observers said he maintained throughout the three-week trial.
A 12-year OPP veteran, Sgt. Deane was second in command of a heavily armed eight-member Tactical Response Unit that was providing support to a 32-member OPP Crowd Management Unit the night Mr. George was killed.
The OPP were called in to deal with the occupation of the tiny provincial park on the shores of Lake Huron that had started two days earlier on Sept. 4, 1995.
Part of the reason for the heavily armed response, police had said, was because they believed the natives involved were armed with AK-47 assault weapons, hunting rifles and Molitov cocktails.
But SIU investigators found no evidence of weapons at the site of the shooting.
The court heard that the shooting took place after the Crowd Management Unit, in full riot gear, began marching to the park's gate at about 11 p.m. They grabbed one of a group of about 24 natives and tried to arrest him. A brief clash took place -- guns were not used by either side -- but it was broken up when a school bus and a car drove out of the park toward police, hitting three officers and forcing others to dive for cover.
In the confusion, seven officers opened fire and Mr. George was hit. He died hours later, after being driven to hospital by three of his fellow protesters.
In his testimony, however, Sgt. Deane said the threat posed by the bus and the car had nothing to do with his decision to shoot Mr. George.
Instead, Sgt. Deane said he shot Mr. George after he saw him leave a position inside the park from which the officer had seen flashes from gunshots.
Sgt. Deane testified during the trial that Mr. George moved out into the open and toward police carrying a rifle, which he then scanned across a group of officers.
Fearing for their safety, Sgt. Deane said he opened fire.
But Judge Fraser's decision rejected the defendants version of events, which he said would require him to believe testimony that:
Sgt. Deane, who was equipped with a radio headset, failed to notify other officers that he had seen muzzle flashes from inside the park;
Sgt. Deane didn't fire into the position where he saw the gunfire;
Mr. George left the protection of the position in the park to confront a heavily armed group of police, eventually levelling his rifle at them;
Mr. George, after being hit by a bullet that broke his collar bone, pierced his left lung and broke two ribs, continued to scan the officers with his gun;
Within seconds of being wounded, Mr. George managed to dispose of his weapon, throwing it into a nearby field;
Sgt. Deane didn't try to retrieve that gun, which was only metres away;
Sgt. Deane's commanding officer did not include a reference to Mr. George being armed in either his notes or his duty report.
While Judge Fraser was highly critical of much of the police testimony he heard at the trial -- he singled out one officer for completely fabricating his testimony and said a portion of another's was so far-fetched that it sugggested "a telepathic" level of understanding between that officer and Sgt. Deane -- he said the testimony of one OPP officer carried great weight in his decision.
The judge said that police evidence at the trial enabled him to conclude that Sgt. George Hebblethwaite was only a metre or two behind Sgt. Deane when Mr. George was shot, and that the two officers shared the same field of vision during the incident.
That, combined with Sgt. Hebblethwaite's testimony that Mr. George was holding only "a pole or stick," and he didn't see the muzzle flash reported by Sgt. Deane, helped convince Judge Fraser that the testimony given by Sgt. Deane was false.
Perhaps the most poignant expression among the large group of OPP officers in the court was contained in the body language of Sgt. Hebblethwaite, who sat, head bent, with his hands over his face for several moments after the verdict was read.
Outside the court, Sam George, one of Dudley's six surviving siblings, said he was stunned by the verdict. "We didn't ever think we'd get justice. We didn't ever think we'd see this police officer found guilty of these charges," Mr. George said. "I am happy this man is going to pay for what he's done."
But Mr. George, who along with some of his other siblings has launched a wrongful-death suit naming Premier Mike Harris, among other top officials, said the family would also press forward with their request for a public inquiry into the events surrounding his brother's death.
His demand for an inquiry was echoed by Assembly of First Nations chief Ovide Mercerdi, who flew in to hear yesterday's verdict.
"Now Mr. Harris and his government have no option but to call for a public inquiry," Mr. Mercredi said.
At Queen's Park, opposition members also called for an inquiry.
"Our key concern has been around the events that led to this situation," Liberal MPP Gerry Phillips said. "We really demand a public inquiry. It is clear to us that the government was deeply involved in the planning of the response at Ipperwash."
New Democrat MPP Bud Wildman said the question that must be answered involves the chain of command. "Who decided the OPP approach would be different from previous situations?" Mr. Wildman asked.
The government, however, said that it was still premature to say whether there should be an inquiry. Mr. Harris and Solicitor-General Bob Runciman said that they should not say anything until the 30-day appeal period that is open to Sgt. Deane is over.
The Premier said, however, an inquiry could address two issues: the OPP conduct at Ipperwash and the government's policy toward the occupation.
"Certainly, nothing I've seen or heard . . . causes me any concern with government policy in the whole matter. But we'll wait until this case is over, and we'll take a look if an inquiry would be helpful."
Sgt. Deane is scheduled to return to court on May 27 for a sentence hearing. The officer faces a maximum of life in prison.
With reports from James Rusk and Canadian Press