It’s happened time and time again. A person in crisis is shot and killed by police. An inquest is held, and a jury releases numerous recommendations. But nothing changes.
The family of Michael MacIsaac is hopeful, but not holding their breath, that this time will be different.
On Wednesday, a jury released 38 recommendations after a Coroner’s Inquest into the last, tumultuous moments of MacIsaac’s life.
They include recommendations that Durham Regional police receive specific de-escalation and mental health training.
MacIsaac, 47, was shot and killed by a Durham police officer after he ran naked into the streets of suburban Ajax on a cold December morning in 2013, agitated and delusional, gripping a metal table leg.
It was MacIsaac’s sister-in-law who called 911. Just 16 minutes after placing the call, MacIsaac was lying in the street, bleeding from two gunshot wounds. He passed away later in hospital.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) cleared the officer who fired the fatal shots.
Const. Brian Taylor testified at the inquest that he feared for his safety after MacIsaac refused orders to drop the table leg and instead approached him in an aggressive manner, carrying the makeshift weapon “like a baseball bat.”
“I feared for my safety,” he testified. “I thought I was going to have a metal bar driven through my skull.”
Instead, two bullets from Taylor’s service weapon pierced MacIsaac’s naked body, ending the confrontation, but beginning his family’s fight to change the way police interact with people in crisis.
MacIsaac’s family contends he was in the grips of a behaviour-altering epileptic seizure when he stormed out of the family home on an ill-fated rampage.
They also maintain that Michael didn’t have to die, and that police were ill-equipped to deal with a person in crisis, pointing out that the interaction between MacIsaac and Const. Taylor lasted mere seconds before lethal force was used.
The fourth recommendation from the inquest emphasizes “the need to create time and space during police interactions with individuals in crisis.”
Despite the fact that the province has yet to adopt any prior jury recommendations when it comes to police shootings involving the mentally ill, coroner Dr. David Evans said he hopes the inquest process helped the family find peace.
“We trust the family have more understanding of the circumstances surrounding the event of Michael’s death and that will help them in their loss,” he said.
MacIsaac’s sister, Joanne, continues to question the SIU’s decision to clear Const. Taylor, calling the police watchdog either “incompetent or indifferent.” But she says she’ll now focus her attention on “pushing for these (recommendations) to be implemented.”
The family’s lawyer, Roy Wellington, reiterated that their work has just begun.
“We will be doing what we can to keep Durham police focused on implementing some of these important recommendations…we will continue to badger them.”
The MacIsaacs know it’s too late for Michael, but they want to prevent another family from experiencing their pain.
Their focus is now on assuring his death leads to real change.
“It would be nice if the recommendations didn’t just sit on a shelf and they were followed,” MacIsaac’s mom, Yvonne, said outside of the courthouse Wednesday. “My son would be alive today if a few of them would be followed.”
“It’s hard,” she added. “I drive by the graveyard and say ‘Hi Micheal’ and I cry.”