The jury panel at the inquest has heard testimony that three officers went to the Mississauga housing complex on March 20, 2015, to respond to a low-priority “neighbour dispute,” but the “situation escalated quickly.”
Marc Ekamba was killed, Const. Branden Dary was shot in the back by Const. Jennifer Whyte, and an innocent bystander was struck in the back by a bullet.
In the end, 19 bullets were fired after police said they were confronted by Marc Ekamba and his mother, Boketsu Boekwa.
“If he had surrendered, there would’ve have been no issue,” Dary testified.
“He chose not to surrender. He chose to attack.”
Const. Dary, testified, via video conference, Wednesday, that the officers had gone to the Queen Frederica Dr., Mississauga complex, to investigate reports of Ekamba and his mother threatening to kill the neighbours and their cats.
The officers first spoke to the neighbour, Diana Cittadino, who showed them a video of the threats Ekamba made with a knife, hours earlier, after which Dary said he felt he had grounds to arrest Ekamba.
“Seems like there was an imminent threat,” Dary said.
The inquest heard that there was an argument between the neighbours on March 16 and police had made notes about that call, including a mention of potential mental health issues linked to “religious delusions.”
Dary said he did not have time to think if mental health was at play because of how quickly events unfolded on March 20.
Ekamba, 22, allegedly called the neighbour a witch and said he would harm the family if he didn’t get his “thrown” back.
Dary said, Ekamba wanted to “kill the neighbours,” and “threatened to drown the neighbours in their blood.”
Dary and his colleagues were confronted by Boekwa and Ekamba, who, Dary said, “had the knife in his pocket and was ready to go,” adding it was as if “they were waiting on us, to ambush us.”
Within seconds of arriving outside the unit and attempting to arrest Ekamba, a scuffle broke out. Ekamba’s mother started swinging a metal pot at the officers, striking Dary and Whyte.
Officer Dary and Const. Adam Paiement, the third officer at the scene, were stabbed by Ekamba during the melee. Dary said he and Whyte wrestled the mother to the ground.
Ekamba then fled the complex, but returned, wielding the knife and “yelling at us to let go of his mother. He charges towards us.”
The officers ordered Ekamba to stop to no effect.
“I believed that Mr. Ekamba was going to kill us,” Dary said.
Dary fired several shots at the approaching Ekamba. While discharging his firearm, Dary was shot in the back, but continued shooting at the advancing Ekamba.
“He finally stopped, turned toward my direction, then he fell backwards,” Dary said.
The officers then proceeded to handcuff Boekwa, “who was still fighting with us.”
Paiement, Whyte and Dary, who also testified this week, were cleared by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), of criminal charges for firing a total of 19 bullets in quick succession inside the Queen Frederica Drive complex.
Eleven of those bullets struck Ekamba, who the SIU says was advancing on police with a kitchen knife that had a six-inch blade.
Suzan Zreik, then 22, was cutting a lime in her kitchen inside her unit when she was accidentally shot. A stray bullet hit her in the back, narrowly missing her spine. Dary said it was a bullet from his firearm that struck Zreik.
Dary, who was wearing body armour crumbled to the ground in pain. The “bullet melted a hole in my back from the impact,” he said.
Today, Dary suffers from constant chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. He’s been on leave ever since.
“It has ruined my life,” Dary testified.
This is the first time the public is getting detailed insight into how police handled the call seven years ago.
The inquest is not a criminal proceeding and the officers are not on trial. Jurors at the coroner’s inquest will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths under similar circumstances.
Dary said disengaging was not an option because Ekamba and his mother could have proceeded to attack the neighbour if police didn’t intervene.
Both officers said Ekamba’s race was not a factor in their decision-making.
Dary, who is Black, doesn’t recall receiving any training into racial biases, in 2015, and says “they didn’t train me how to treat other Black people,” and there was limited training on how to deal with racialized communities in general.
“I don’t think race had anything to do in this case,” Dary said of Ekamba being Black. “It was quite clear that their (Ekamba’s and Boekwa’s) behaviour dictated what happened.”
Officer Paiement testified that in 2015 Peel police had “very minimal” training on how to handle mental health-related calls, adding that he doesn’t recall getting much training on dealing with racialized communities in crisis.
The officers didn’t apply any de-escalation techniques, he said.
“Colour (race) had nothing to do with my thinking on this case,” Paiment testified.
Paiement, a white officer, testified that he started shooting at Ekamba when he was about 20 feet away, saying he thought Ekamba was “going to run to me and stab me again.”
Paiement, now a Det. Const. with Peel police, said “it would’ve been nice to know (about the March 16 police report about the purported mental health concerns), but I don’t think it would’ve changed nothing in this incident.”
He said the Peel police unit that assisted with mental health calls, Crisis Outreach and Support Teams (COAST), would not have attended because Ekamba was considered violent.
Paiement said it would’ve help to have a Taser, but the device wasn’t readily available to all Peel officers at the time.
“I think if I had Tasered him right at the front door, it would’ve alleviated everything that happened in the aftermath,” Paiement said.
Boketsu Boekwa was convicted of conspiracy to murder her neighbour, Diana Cittadino, as well as assault with a weapon and uttering threats. The Crown withdrew a charge of conspiracy to murder a police officer. She was later declared not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.
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