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Police involved in shooting death of northern Ont. man describe lingering trauma, lack of support

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The northern Ontario police officers involved in a case that killed a man in crisis in 2020 say they were left on their own without mental health support following the tragedy.

That’s because the province’s Special Investigations Unit didn’t want them speaking about the case while they investigated. The officers were later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Police testified Wednesday and Thursday at a coroner's inquest into the death of John-Paul 'Jay' George, 42, who was killed at a home on Lakeshore Drive in New Liskeard shortly before 9 p.m. April 9, 2020.

George had threatened to kill people, including a child, and pointed a replica firearm at police when he was killed. The Indigenous man was shot five times in the torso by two officers.

Upon arrival at the scene, OPP Const. Nicholas Kwong went to the back of the house. Another officer was at the front and Sgt. Kailee Bradley was at the side of the home between them.

Kwong said there was no time to meaningfully engage with George or de-escalate the situation because as soon as they saw him, George was pointing what looked like a firearm at the officers.

Bradley said she heard Kwong or Const. Robert Maki inside the house say, "Don't move."

When he wouldn’t comply with commands to "drop the gun," Kwong shot twice and Maki shot three times.

Because they weren't sure if more suspects posed a threat, George was handcuffed and placed on his back where he landed on the kitchen floor.

"When I saw him fall over to his stomach, I believed the threat had been subdued enough to stop shooting," Kwong said.

"The threat is never zero."

Bradley entered the home, pulled George closer to the back door and administered CPR while Kwong kept a lookout for other attackers and Maki and another officer went upstairs to find the child.

The child was not brought downstairs until George was taken away by ambulance and the basement was checked for additional suspects.

No chance to debrief

Because the Ontario Special Investigations Unit was involved, none of the officers were allowed to talk to each other about what happened or debrief about the situation until after the case was closed.

This took a big toll on each officer's mental health, they said, as the SIU investigation took about a year.

Kwong was brought to tears talking about the experience, saying he felt like he was left in the dark and that there wasn't help to make contact with mental health services.

He and Bradley said they found their own therapists, but Kwong added if he had been asked more or told someone he was struggling, he may have been given help.

No one has reached out about a debrief yet, but the officers said it would still help even after all this time.

"Anything would help -- I think sharing our experiences would help," Kwong said.

Bradley said the incident happened on her platoon's last night shift before they had five days off, but she had trouble sleeping for several weeks after.

She said she tried to go back to work but was exhausted and had a hard time focusing.

"I felt sad for the two officers involved because I knew they were stressed," Bradley said.

"It is difficult when you are not able to talk about it or debrief these things, you can grow and heal from that."

She said if officers were allowed to talk to each other after being interviewed by SIU while it is still fresh in their minds, they could learn from the situation right away and it would give them support and a chance to make changes earlier.

"As hard as it is to bring it up even years later, I think it is always helpful."

During her testimony, Bradley said she had known George for years, but that he had lost a lot of weight and didn’t specify in what capacity she knew him.

Exchanged firearms

A handgun, later confirmed to be a replica, was found by the back door.

As a common practice, when firearms are discharged by police, officers exchange them with one another to keep continuity, Kwong, Maki and Bradley testified.

Both Kwong and Maki were wearing special leather protective gloves but did not have to give those up as evidence.

Christa Big Canoe, counsel for George's family, reiterated that the victim's mother, Anne Commando-Dube, and sister Tina Broderick have acknowledged everyone involved has been exposed to some level of harm and needs some healing. 

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