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Officer Involved in Myles Gray’s Violent Death Now Works in a High School

Vancouver police won’t say whether Const. Hardeep Sahota is still facing disciplinary actions connected to the 2015 homicide.

Katie Hyslop 5 Jun 2024The Tyee

Katie Hyslop is a reporter with The Tyee.

A Vancouver police officer who could be facing a disciplinary hearing following the violent 2015 death of Myles Gray is now working as a school liaison officer at a Vancouver secondary school.

That’s a worry for some parents at John Oliver Secondary whose concerns were shared with police and the school district last fall.

The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council emailed police and the school district on behalf of the school’s parents in September, saying officers who have “participated in the death of a suspect” should not be working in schools.

Four months after Vancouver Police Department officers returned to schools last September under the re-established school liaison officer program, The Tyee filed a freedom of information request for the names and school assignments of the 17 officers and one youth justice co-ordinator in the program.

In April, the department refused the request, claiming that releasing the information could be “reasonably expected” to endanger the officers’ safety, mental health or even their lives. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia is currently reviewing the department’s response.

But an online search revealed one school liaison officer was also the first officer to respond to a 911 call that resulted in the police-involved death of Gray in 2015 — Const. Hardeep Sahota.

Gray, the owner of a floral supply business, had been acting erratically and was likely in a manic state when he sprayed a woman with a hose and threatened to assault her son in a residential neighbourhood of South Vancouver on Aug. 13, 2015.

Gray tried to pull open the door of Sahota’s police vehicle when she responded to a call about his behaviour, she testified in last year’s coroner’s inquest. Sahota, who was alone, radioed for assistance, leading to the arrival of eight other officers to the scene.

The coroner’s inquest heard how those officers beat Gray with batons and fists as they attempted to restrain him.

In April 2023, the inquest jury ruled Gray’s death a homicide. Coroner’s inquests do not assign blame.

An autopsy revealed Gray’s extensive injuries, including a ruptured testicle, fractured eye socket, dislocated jaw and broken bones in his nose, rib cage and throat. At the inquest, Sahota testified to striking Gray on the leg three times with her baton and restraining his legs in a hobble.

Following an Independent Investigations Office review — but before the coroner’s inquest took place — the BC Prosecution Service declined to press charges against any of the officers, due to their inconsistent testimony and an “inability to pinpoint the exact cause of death,” the CBC reported.

Internal reports from the investigation ordered by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of British Columbia into the officers’ conduct disagree on whether Sahota may have used unnecessary force.

The RCMP investigation done under OPCC authority did not find enough evidence to substantiate the use of unnecessary force in Sahota’s case. But David Jones, former Metro Vancouver Transit Police chief and the external discipline authority who reviewed the RCMP investigation, decided there was in fact enough evidence to potentially substantiate that Sahota had used unnecessary force.

Both the RCMP investigation and Jones found that Sahota may have neglected her duties by failing to take notes at the scene and by waiting five months before submitting her official statement.

Following the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest, media reported that Sahota was one of seven officers potentially facing discipline for her actions.

No one The Tyee has spoken to, including the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the Vancouver Police Department and the Delta Police Department, whose chief is overseeing the disciplinary process, would confirm whether Sahota has faced or is facing discipline for her actions.

“We cannot discuss details of any ongoing Police Act process,” Const. Tania Visintin, a media relations officer with the Vancouver Police Department, wrote in an email to The Tyee. Visintin added that Sahota is a “highly respected police officer,” valued by the community, and has the department’s “full and unwavering support.”

A poster on the right of the frame shows a light-skinned man in a red baseball cap smiling into the camera; bruises can be seen on his forehead. A poster on the left of the frame shows a photo of the same man in sunglasses and a black short-sleeved collared shirt, and reads 'Myles Gray. It could have been your son or daughter.'
Myles Gray, who had been acting erratically and appeared to be in a manic episode, died from extensive injuries inflicted by police on Aug. 13, 2015. Photo by Jen St. Denis.

Whether Sahota would be subject to a disciplinary hearing was not disclosed when the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council emailed police and the school district last September with their concerns about her role as a school liaison officer at John Oliver Secondary at East 41st and Fraser in southeast Vancouver.

While the council declined an interview with The Tyee, it pointed to an email exchange available on its website outlining concerns it was hearing from parents.

“We are concerned that officers that are known to the community and connected with violent events are being placed in schools with our children,” the council’s email reads. “This shows a lack of knowledge of school communities, and a lack of understanding decisions like this can make to an entire community.”

They also noted school liaison officers lead extracurricular activities, making them de facto “instructional staff” at the school.

“With a percentage of the student population who identify as neurodivergent, that can make it difficult to self-regulate. Putting officers who have a history of brutal force in schools with these kids is incredibly dangerous for these kids, and the community.”

In response, Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson told the advisory council that each school liaison officer was “carefully selected.”

“In part due to their policing skills, life experiences, and commitment [to] public safety. They reflect the diversity within our schools and the character within our communities,” she wrote, adding “day to day” interactions between officers and students are “voluntary” and students don’t have to engage.

“I have every confidence that each and every one will carry out their duties in a way that reflects the Vancouver Police Department’s core values of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence.”

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Police Foundation, a registered charity funding Vancouver Police Department programs beyond regular duties, published an article on its website featuring pictures of and quotes from Sahota, who was active in supporting girls’ basketball.

The article has since been removed, but an archived copy is available through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Allegations of abuse of authority, neglect of duty

Former Metro Vancouver Transit Police chief David Jones was designated as the external discipline authority investigating Gray’s death by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

The external discipline authority is brought in to review the investigation, determine whether any allegations against officers are substantiated and, if they are, recommend possible sanctions.

Their work is monitored by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, but external discipline authorities have the independence to make their own decisions “consistent with the requirements of the Police Act,” Andrea Spindler, deputy police complaint commissioner, told The Tyee via email.

If officers disagree with the findings, the external discipline authority holds disciplinary proceedings.

Based on the RCMP investigation, Jones determined that both the abuse-of-authority allegations, related to the use of unnecessary force, and the neglect-of-duty allegations, related to note-taking delays, against Sahota “‘may’ be substantiated.”

Sahota told investigators she did not start writing her notes until after a debrief at police headquarters the day Gray died. Sahota then took five months to finish and upload her statement to the department’s Police Records Information Management Environment database. She told investigators both actions were taken on advice from union representative Ralph Kaisers. Kaisers has since been elected Vancouver Police Union president.

Five officers, not including Sahota, told investigators that Vancouver Police Union representatives told them not to take handwritten notes or submit their statements before speaking to the Independent Investigations Office.

While 2015 VPD policy did not include timelines for submitting statements, the RCMP investigation highlighted a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that police “have a duty to prepare accurate, detailed, and comprehensive notes as soon as practicable after an investigation.”

The potential punishments outlined by Jones for Sahota ranged from temporary unpaid suspension for the delay in completing her statement to dismissal from the force for unnecessary use of force.

Jones, now retired, has been replaced as the external discipline authority by Delta Police Department Chief Constable Neil Dubord. A spokesperson for the Delta Police Department directed The Tyee’s questions about whether Sahota was still facing potential discipline to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

The OPCC confirmed disciplinary proceedings were still ongoing. For privacy reasons, however, they could not reveal whether Sahota is involved in these proceedings.

The Tyee sent a list of questions to the Vancouver Police Department about Sahota and requested an interview with her. We asked whether she had faced or is still facing discipline, what mental health training she has received, what was communicated to the school community about Sahota’s role in the Gray case and what would disqualify someone from being a school liaison officer.

Two days after our deadline, Visintin responded via email. Sahota was not made available for an interview.

“Constable Sahota, and all of the Vancouver Police Department’s school liaison officers, represent the best of us,” Visintin’s email reads. “They are exceptional police officers who reflect the diversity within our schools and the character within our communities. We are proud of their work and we stand by them. They make our schools, and our communities, safer.”

The VPD’s own data, obtained by The Tyee, casts doubt on the assertion that SLOs make schools safer.

Further followup with the department confirmed Sahota has taken the crisis intervention and de-escalation training all police officers have been required to undergo in B.C. since 2015. Additional online training is required every three years.

But The Tyee could not get details on how school liaison officers are selected. The VPD instead emailed a statement noting the need for unspecified core and position-specific competencies and training.

Ongoing controversy about the SLO program

The Tyee requested an interview with current Vancouver School Board chair Victoria Jung about Sahota’s SLO position. Jung was not made available.

Instead, an emailed statement from a district staff person noted that school liaison officers’ names and badge numbers are “available to anyone interacting with them.”

“The SLO program is intended to enhance safety and security of schools,” the email reads. “In carrying out their work, SLOs use trauma-informed approaches. Their work in schools focuses on proactive prevention and education.”

Sadie Kuehn, a former Vancouver School Board trustee and member of the police department’s former African Descent Advisory Committee, told The Tyee that as far as she knows there are no guidelines for who gets to be a school liaison officer.

“What does this say about any kind of levels of accountability? Both in terms of the police and the school system itself?” Kuehn asked.

Even those who support having police in schools should welcome more transparency, Kuehn told The Tyee.

Under the previous school liaison officer program, cancelled by the school board in 2021 after community consultations revealed 60 per cent of Black respondents and half of Indigenous respondents had negative views of the program, the Vancouver School Board had a history of publishing the names of the 17 officers and the schools they worked in.

Shortly before the cancellation, parents and advocates disclosed that a previous school liaison officer at Lord Byng Secondary, Trevor Letourneau, had been involved in the police shooting death of Tony Du, a person of colour experiencing mental distress, in 2014.

The Independent Investigations Office cleared Letourneau of any wrongdoing related to Du’s death. But his subsequent placement at Lord Byng was enough for some to call for the program’s cancellation.

Some district schools still publish their school liaison officer’s information online today. But most do not.

The return of the SLO program to 17 of the district’s 18 secondary schools has been controversial.

ABC Vancouver, the municipal party that swept the city council, park board and school board elections in 2022, campaigned in part on returning police officers to schools.

The ABC Vancouver-majority board trustees promised the new school liaison officer program would draw on feedback from the community consultation report that led to the program being cancelled in 2021.

Changes to the program that returned officers to schools last September included more casual uniforms, unmarked police vehicles, smaller weapons and more training. A Tyee freedom of information request in December for the Vancouver Police Department’s training materials for school officers has been referred to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner because the department did not respond to the request as required by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Shortly before the November 2022 school board vote that called for the program’s return, B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender called for the cancellation of all B.C. school liaison officer programs unless school districts could prove the program was helpful, not harmful, to all students.

In late 2022 The Tyee learned that despite previous claims by the department and educators, the Vancouver Police Department had not provided any special training to the previous school liaison officers beyond basic policing requirements.

In June 2023, Vancouver Police Board member Rachel Roy resigned after the board declined to hold a vote on the return of the school liaison officer program.

That same month, the Vancouver Police Department’s African Descent Advisory Committee, formed in the wake of heightened awareness surrounding police violence against Black people in 2020, criticized the police board for not engaging with them on the return of police to schools.

In March, the committee announced it was no longer engaging with the police department, citing “disrespect” from the board.

In their email exchange with police last fall, the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council acknowledged the VPD’s confidence in their school liaison officers. But that doesn’t quell parents’ concerns about assigning an officer to their school who was involved in the violent death of a suspect, the council wrote.

“Schools are communities; communities need trust to create strong social ties and support mental health and a healthy educational environment,” it said.  [Tyee]

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