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Myles Gray's mother says conclusion of B.C. coroner's inquest marks end of chapter

Margie Gray says the end of a coroner's inquest into the death of her son has shown the public what she has known all along; that Vancouver police officers beat her son to death when he was vulnerable and needed help.
Margie Gray arrives for the first day of a coroner's inquest into the beating death of her son, Myles Gray, who died following a confrontation with several police officers in 2015, in Burnaby, B.C., on April 17, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Margie Gray says the end of a coroner's inquest into the death of her son has shown the public what she has known all along; that Vancouver police officers beat her son to death when he was vulnerable and needed help.

Gray said the classification of her son Myles Gray's death as homicide by the inquest jury brought her some relief, nearly eight years after he died.

"People know the truth and that to me is a huge, huge piece," she said in an interview on Tuesday from her home on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast.

The coroner presiding over the two-week inquest, Larry Marzinzik, had advised the jury before deliberation began that homicide meant death due to injury intentionally inflicted by another person, but it's a neutral term that doesn't imply fault or blame.

"We all know that's what it was," Gray said of the classification. 

"That came right from (the pathologist)."

Dr. Matthew Orde, the forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Gray's body, told the inquest last week that a "perfect storm" of factors led to his death, including his extreme physical exertion as officers struggled to restrain him.

Orde said the 33-year-old died of cardiac arrest complicated by police actions and pointed specifically to "neck compression," blunt force injuries, the use of pepper spray and holding Gray on his stomach while his arms were handcuffed behind his back.

"In the context of someone who's extremely fatigued, (whose) body is fully ramped up ... I think these issues would be enough to tip him over the edge," Orde said.

People who are forcibly restrained on their stomach are at greater risk of death, especially when their body has increased physiological demands, he testified.

The officers who testified at the inquest often used similar language to describe Gray's behaviour, saying he was grunting and yelling in an "animalistic" way. 

They said he displayed "superhuman strength" and he didn't seem to be feeling any pain as they punched him in the head and struck him with their batons.

One officer said Gray's screams were "demonic."

Gray's mother said the officers "couldn't have dehumanized Myles more."

She said her son was vulnerable that day, and he needed help.

"If you see somebody wearing no shoes, you would get a sense that they're having a vulnerable moment and what they need is help and compassion," she said.

"They don't need to be beat to death."

The pathologist found Gray had a long list of injuries, including a fractured eye socket, nose, rib and voice box, ruptured testicles and extensive bruising.

Orde had originally listed "excited delirium" among the possible contributing factors in Gray's death. Many of the 14 Vancouver police officers who testified at the inquest also used the contentious term describing a state of agitation.

However, Orde revised that finding during his testimony at the inquest, saying published data and research suggest it's "quite unlikely" that so-called excited delirium syndrome could independently result in someone's death.

"Acute behavioural disturbance" is a better description of what Gray was experiencing on the day he died, Orde told the five-member jury.

The jury's verdict on Monday was not unanimous, with four of the five members agreeing.

The jury made two recommendations aimed at the Vancouver Police Department, with expediting the use of body-worn cameras for all patrol officers at the top of the list, followed by enhanced crisis de-escalation training for officers, especially in situations where someone is experiencing a mental-health disturbance.

The initial 911 call on the day Gray died was about an agitated man who was behaving erratically and who had sprayed a woman with a garden hose.

The first police officer who responded to the call told the inquest she called for backup because Gray was acting aggressively and she feared for her safety.

Another officer testified that he was trained in crisis negotiation and initially tried to talk with Gray, but deployed pepper spray as Gray "charged" at police.

Margie Gray described her son as a gentle soul.

"From what I take from all his friends sharing stories, he was a very positive influence on them. If they were having a bad day or problems in their lives, they turned to him, and Myles tried to motivate them," she said.

"I'm getting stories I've never heard of before, quite often, and it's so nice to hear."

Gray said she will be watching for the results of a disciplinary hearing set to take place later this year over the conduct of several officers on the day her son died.

Gray's parents filed a civil lawsuit in 2016 against the City of Vancouver, its police department, the police board and nearly a dozen unnamed officers.

The family hasn't yet had a conversation about how to proceed with the existing civil suit, Gray said, but she assumes they will move ahead with it.

A statement from Vancouver Police Chief Const. Adam Palmer issued Tuesday said the death of Myles Gray had a profound and lasting impact on everyone involved, and he extends his deepest condolences to the Gray family. 

He said the police will carefully review the two recommendations for police from the jury. 

"We believe all police officers should have access to the most up-to-date training on crisis de-escalation and mental health, and we are currently implementing a pilot program to equip all front-line officers with body-worn cameras in the near future." 

Premier David Eby was asked about the inquest verdict at an unrelated event on Tuesday and said it's a chance to "reflect on the terribly tragedy of Mr. Gray's death."

The province is looking at the jury's recommendations, as it's important to learn as much as possible to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future, he said.

"I just want to send my condolences out to Mr. Gray's family and friends," the premier said. "It must have been an incredibly difficult process, but I'm glad they were able to get the information they (needed) about what happened."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press