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Northern Ont. inquest hears events leading up to fatal police shooting

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A coroner's inquest heard details this week of what led police to shoot and kill John-Paul ‘Jay’ George in 2020 in northern Ontario.

The province's Special Investigations Unit already cleared police of any wrongdoing in connection with George’s death on April 9, 2020, in New Liskeard.

George, who lived with a substance abuse disorder and mental health challenges, had threatened to shoot a female acquaintance -- Sonya Deering, her son and a dog at her home the day of the incident. When police arrived on the scene, he ran upstairs threatening “to kill the kid.” He was shot and killed a short time later. A replica firearm was found at the scene.

The inquest is examining police policies and training on the use of force when dealing with someone experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. The goal is to prevent similar situations from happening again.

Testifying this week were people who were at the scene when George was killed.

Met deceased days prior

Wendy Rhodes, a woman who said she was living in Deering's basement at the time of the incident, testified Tuesday. 

Rhodes said she was using drugs at the time, primarily crystal meth and cocaine, but is now sober.

Deering and Rhodes both said they met George days before the shooting through Sonya's ex-boyfriend, who was planning to move into the basement at George's house.

The day before his death, Rhodes said she went to George's house to fix his computer and his smart TV. She testified he complained that people were stealing from him.

George discussed selling some of his stuff to both women, they both said.

Three provincial police officers who shot and killed John-Paul George, 42, four years ago but were cleared of wrongdoing and now a coroner's inquest is underway to prevent similar incidents in the future. (Supplied)

One of the items George was arranging to sell to Rhodes was his four-wheeler. That night, Deering drove her home on it before returning to George’s house, where her ex-boyfriend and son were visiting.

The next day, Rhodes said she gave George a $2,000 down payment in cash for the four-wheeler, which was parked at her boyfriend's house across the street.

Things started to go wrong when they went back to her place to get a receipt.

'Seemed to be on something'

At some point on the day of the shooting, while he was at Deering's house, George got very upset and was pacing back and forth, agitated and muttering about people stealing from him, Rhodes said.

He and Sonya argued and she stormed out of the back door with her son. Before leaving, she gave him a bag of items, saying, "Here, this is what you want. Take it and leave."

Rhodes said she and George found packs of gum and a pellet gun inside the bag, along with some of his other belongings.

She then said George stayed with her in the basement for a couple of hours, saying he wouldn't leave until Deering came back, threatening to shoot her, Sonya's dog and son.

Appearing to "be on something," Rhodes said George asked her if she had any drugs and that he was talking fast, was sweating and jittery.

When Deering returned home and put her son to bed, there was another altercation between her and George about him wanting his stuff back.

That’s when he threatened to shoot her and the dog.

Rhodes convinced him to let Deering leave so that she could get her phone at her dad's house. She needed the phone to contact people to get George his stuff back, they told him, leaving him with Rhodes.

She went to her dad's house and asked him to call police.

Yellow caution tape (Credit: Pexels)

911 calls

The inquest heard recordings of the 911 calls with Darrell Deering about "people with guns" who were trying to break into his daughter Sonya's house nearby.

Both Deerings were called to testify but failed to show up as scheduled on Monday, so the inquest counsel played the audio recordings, leaving no ability to cross-examine the witnesses.

During the audio recording, Darrell told the 911 operator a child was in the house and if police didn't get there soon, he was going over with his gun.

Officers arrived within seven minutes and found Darrell standing in front of the house with his daughter and he was holding a pipe.

The inquest also heard an audio recording of Sonya giving her statement to an OPP detective.

Back at her house, Rhodes said George spoke about how his chest was going to be riddled with bullets. Although he didn't mention the cops, she took it to mean he intended to die by police shooting.

Rhodes said George was not armed, but when police arrived, he ran from the table and went up the stairs saying he was going to "kill the kid."

At that point, Rhodes said she ran out the front door and yelled to police that the man inside was not armed.

That’s when she saw Darrell standing there, too.

Officers didn't ask her any questions before she heard five gunshots inside the house.

Empty wallet

Rhodes testified that George put the $2,000 cash she gave him as a down payment in his pants pocket, but his mother and sister said they didn't find any money when police returned his personal effects, including his wallet.

No receipt for the down payment was ever made, either.

The inquest is expected to run until Friday.

CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca will continue coverage Wednesday with testimonies from the two officers involved in the shooting.

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