TORONTO - The police officer had no choice.
All three eyewitnesses seemed to agree — facing down a young man armed with a knife who kept on coming despite commands to stop, the Toronto cop was left with no alternative but to shoot.
Reyal Jardine-Douglas, 25, may have been troubled and may have been psychotic, but he was charging towards the retreating officer with a sharp blade he’d just pulled from his knapsack. And as the distance closed between them, the tragic end couldn’t be avoided.
“He was going to hurt somebody and the only person in his path was that police officer,” recalled Blythe Brett, who watched the shooting unfold as she drove by on Aug. 29, 2010.
Heading into this inquest examining the police shootings of three people with mental illness, there was much criticism that there must have been a better way than firing their service revolver.
But as the hearing begins to look at the first case of Jardine-Douglas, it becomes obvious that any better solution evaporated as soon as uniformed police were dispatched with their lights and sirens blaring. In hindsight, there’s little surprise that someone paranoid and delusional was bound to react badly.
The police knew he was in mental distress. Jardine-Douglas’s worried sister had called 911 for help and was on the phone, outlining how her brother had been suffering for years and was now acting particularly irrationally. They were told he’d boarded a southbound Victoria Park bus but there were no reports of his threatening anyone on board.
That all changed, however, as soon as TTC driver Ralph Charles noticed the police cars and pulled over to let on the two officers.
What followed next is captured in chilling detail by the video that was running on the TTC bus. Jardine-Douglas, dressed in baggy jeans, a loose shirt and baseball cap, can be seen sitting quietly in his seat until he notices the cruisers. He then stands hurriedly and tries to go out the back doors before the bus has stopped. Unable to get off, he can then be seen reaching into his knapsack and unwrapping a knife from its packaging.
The first officer on the bus doesn’t have his weapon drawn when, according to Charles, he calmly addresses Jardine-Douglas by saying, “Can you come with me, sir?”
On the soundless video, you can see the startled look on the officer’s face when he suddenly spots the knife in his right hand. He begins backing out of the bus and shouting something as he reaches for his gun. Charles said the cop was yelling, “Drop the knife, drop the knife” but Jardine-Douglas ignored him and quickly followed him off the bus.
The driver said the officer was trying to back up to maintain the distance between them but there were obstacles in his way — a hydro pole and then a fence. And still Jardine-Douglas kept moving forward.
Brett was in a car when she noticed the man with a knife shadowing the officer, pivoting on his feet and changing direction like a basketball player covering an opponent. “He had a facial expression that he was going to hurt somebody and he didn’t care,” she says. She assumed Jardine-Douglas was on drugs or having some kind of “psychotic break,” because it made no sense that he kept advancing towards the cop.
“The police officer was in danger. There’s no question in mind,” Brett said.
Her girlfriend riding beside her that day agreed. “It almost seemed like he charged at the officer,” recalled Storm Grosvenor, who said Jardine-Douglas had raised his knife. “He had no choice. He had to defend himself.”
The four gunshots happen off camera — but they are seared in the memory of the TTC driver. He believes the police had no option, but it haunts him still.
“When I put myself into the position of the parents, it’s hard because I have kids and I would prefer to die before my kids,” Charles said, his eyes filling with tears.
“But I know as well how the officer must feel,” he added. “I know very well he wouldn’t be able to sleep for a long while, for the rest of his life.”
The inquest continues Thursday with testimony from police on scene that day.
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