Watchdog calls for inquest into death of young man shot by police

A full public inquest should be held into the fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Rhett Mutch, B.C.’s youth watchdog says.

“There needs to be a full investigation and a look at the direct connection between the absence of mental-health services,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the provincial representative for children and youth.

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“We can’t allow someone to disappear from our community and say it’s over without learning [how this can be prevented],” she said, adding the lack of mental-health supports for youth and families is a major concern for her office.

“We need to recognize the mental-health system does not function for adolescents. … It is a broken, fractured system that needs to be rebuilt.”

Turpel-Lafond’s comments came days after a Victoria police officer was cleared in the 2014 shooting death of Mutch, a Victoria man.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the officer in regard to the shooting.

However, the office, which investigates deaths and injuries related to police actions, raised concerns about the actions of Victoria police in the events precluding Mutch’s death.

“Significant communication failures led to different perspectives amongst officers as to the need to immediately confront the affected person,” said the report.

On Nov.1, 2014, Mutch was shot and killed at his home less than an hour after his mother called 911 for help.

Mutch had lost his job and was distraught; he grabbed a kitchen knife, saying he wanted to die. He was confronted by four police officers, who tried to get him to drop the knife and calm down. He advanced toward two officers and was shot in the neck.

Marney Mutch, Rhett’s mother, told the Times Colonist her son had struggled with mental-health issues since he was a child. Every attempt she made to get him help from mental-health and social services and the justice system backfired.

Turpel-Lafond said an inquest would help “find a way for this community to stand with [Rhett’s] mother and others like her who are at wit’s end. … They can’t be the mental-health system on their own.”

Public inquests are held by the B.C. Coroners Service to investigate deaths in the public interest and make recommendations for policy changes.

Coroner Barb McLintock said it is too soon to say how the office will respond to the IIO report, “but in cases of police shootings, the large majority of them are indeed concluded by public inquest.”

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner could also call for an investigation into the shooting death.

Spokesman Rollie Woods said a decision on that is expected within the next few weeks.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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