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EDITORIAL: Stephens family deserves answers

Family of Jeremy Stephens outside of the Summerside provincial court house. Gilda Stephens, centre, has hired a lawyer who, on behalf of her client, has issued letters to relevant Island institutions who may be able to provide answers to the family's questions involving the death of Jeremy Stephens.
Family of Jeremy Stephens outside of the Summerside provincial court house. - Millicent McKay

None of us was in that dark basement on May 27, 2018 when police officers opened fire on Jeremy Stephens, killing the 32-year-old Summerside man.

But a report by the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) released this week gives us a glimpse into the final minutes of Stephens’s life.

The report concluded the three officers were “justified” in shooting Stephens, leaving his battered body with eight gunshot wounds.

“…There are no grounds to consider any charges against the officers,” SIRT director Felix Cacchione wrote in his report. “Their actions were justified at law.”

Jeremy Stephens’s family says they are left with many, many unanswered questions.

Gilda Stephens, through her lawyer, Julie Kirkpatrick, is calling for an inquest adding “I believe that this is extremely important to ensure that a death like Jeremy’s at the hands of police does not happen to someone else.”

We agree fully with the Stephens family.

There are too many unanswered questions to close this file with nothing more than a SIRT report.

An inquest needs to be called not only to answer the family’s questions, but also to ensure confidence in Summerside Police Services.

By all accounts, Stephens was no angel. He had been in trouble with the law before. Police were attempting to arrest Stephens on suspicion he was involved in a violent robbery at a Summerside hotel the night before.

According to the SIRT report, three Summerside police officers chased Stephens into a darkened home during a scheduled power outage. They searched the home and found him in the basement.

The officers repeatedly ordered Stephens to surrender, but he broke an arm off a nearby chair and reportedly told officers to kill him.

“The suspect repeated the words 'kill me' several times as he moved closer towards the officer,” the report said.

The suspect then picked up a golf club and swung it at the officer’s head, missing it by less than a foot.

Stephens reportedly had told people hours earlier he believed he was wanted by police and that “absolutely no way that I am going back to jail you guys, I hope you know what that means” adding that if the police tried to arrest him “I will cut one of them”.

Stephens’s blood, as contained in a toxicology report, showed the presence of THC, amphetamine and methamphetamine. The report called Stephens’s irrational behaviour typical of someone with high concentrations of those drugs in their system.

The questions on everybody’s mind is why three police officers could not find a less lethal way of arresting Stephens given his only weapons were a broken piece of chair and a golf club.

The officers had Tasers. The report says they didn’t have time to use them. Is that a fair assessment?

Did the officers not have batons? Why wasn’t that an option?

Could the officers not contained Stephens in the basement and call for backup?

And even if lethal force was necessary, why eight gunshot wounds?

The SIRT report indicates the officer “…fearing for his safety, opened fire and discharged six rounds” into Stephens’s body, which had already sustained gunshot wounds.

For any layperson, that seems excessive to the extreme.

The people of Prince Edward Island, the residents of Summerside, and most importantly the Stephens’s family need to hear first hand from that officer, and the others there that night, under oath at a public inquest.

Until that happens a dark cloud will hang over Summerside Police Services.

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