TORONTO — A coroner’s inquest jury has ruled the shooting deaths of three mentally ill people at the hands of police are homicides.
The five-person jury delivered its verdict and recommendations on Wednesday following a five-month hearing into the killings of Michael Eligon, 29, Sylvia Klibingaitis, 52, and Reyal Jardine-Douglas, 25.
All were in a state of mental crisis and wielding sharp objects when approached by Toronto Police officers. The officers involved in the shootings had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit prior to the inquest.
Eligon was killed in February 2012 after he escaped from East General Hospital and ended up wandering a residential area clutching scissors. A knife-wielding Klibingaitis was shot by police in October 2011 after the woman made a 911 call saying she was going to kill her mother. Jardine-Douglas was shot in August 2010 after pulling out a knife on a TTC bus.
While a homicide verdict in an inquest carries no criminal implications, the jury made 74 non-binding recommendations on how various law-enforcement bodies -- including the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Police College, and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services -- can better deal with mentally ill people in a crisis situation.
Among the recommendations was a call for Toronto Police to “maximize emphasis on de-escalation techniques” as an alternative to shouting “drop the weapon” to a person in crisis and wielding an “edged weapon.”
The jury also determined Toronto Police should provide additional training to its officers around verbal de-escalation, to ensure they better communicate “help and understanding,” and hold off from firing a gun as long as possible.