19 seconds: That’s how much time passed between a police order and Andrew Loku’s fatal shooting
For at least four minutes and forty seconds, Andrew Loku stood in the hallway of his Toronto apartment building holding a hammer in his hands.
The hall echoed with shouts, sounds of shattering, and allegations of death threats, according to audio captured from a 911 call on July 5, 2015.
In that time, no one was injured.
Then two police officers arrived, one twice shouting the same three words: “Drop the hammer. Drop the hammer.”
Nineteen seconds later, Loku was shot to death.
The encounter with police
The father of five arrived in Canada as a Sudanese refugee in 2004.
He would be later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder connected to torture he suffered after being kidnapped in Sudan.
Loku, 45, was also a recovering alcoholic; his blood-alcohol level was at three times the legal limit to drive when he died, according to a toxicology report presented during a coroner’s inquest that began this week.
The Special Investigations Unit — a provincial watchdog that investigates whenever someone is seriously injured or killed in the presence of police — cleared the two officers involved in Loku’s death of any wrongdoing in March 2016, sparking days of protests by Black Lives Matter.
While the coroner’s inquest cannot overturn that decision or make criminal findings, it will look at whether there are policy or training changes that could prevent similar fatalities.
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The 911 call preceding the shooting was released at the inquest this week, documenting the last minutes of Loku’s life.
A friend of one his neighbours placed the call about 10 minutes after police dropped Loku at home after finding him riding an e-bike on the Don Valley Parkway, confused about how he got there, according to testimony at the inquest.
The second encounter with police was much shorter.
The officers arrive — one a coach, the other a new recruit with a few months on the job — and can soon be heard on the tape telling Loku to drop his weapon.
Any other words exchanged in the next 19 seconds are distorted by a combination of yelling and the questions posed by the 911 operator.
Two gunshots, however, cut through the noise.
“Oh, my god,” the 911 caller moans. “Oh, my god.”
“What was that?” the operator asks her.
“That was gunshots,” the caller replies. “Gunshots from the police officer.”
A male voice can then be heard on the line telling everyone to stay in their apartments, a message that the operator repeats.
Muffled voices come from the caller’s side of the phone, before she says: “They killed him?”
“Oh, my,” the 911 operator interrupts. “What?”
The next words are inaudible, masked by sounds of crying until a child asks, quietly: “He’s dead?”
Allegations of death threats
The woman who called 911 that night had done so after Loku allegedly threatened to kill her friend, she told the operator. Loku had been making noise in his apartment and then followed the woman upstairs when she asked him to be quiet, her friend said.
He briefly entered the apartment and then continued to make death threats from outside where he wielded a hammer.
Police were informed they were responding to a situation in which a man had a weapon and had threatened to kill someone, the inquest heard earlier this week. It’s unclear, however, if the type of weapon was named.
Terry Coleman, a former police chief with 35 years in uniform, raised the question of whether the officers should have first tried harder to de-escalate the situation at the inquest Thursday.
He’s now an academic who consults about policing and mental health. He told the inquest that officers should be as well trained on how bring calm to a situation as they are on how to use force.
Policing changes in B.C.
In British Columbia, officers now undergo crisis management and de-escalation training every three years. That policy came out of the 2010 inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man who was fatally Tasered by RCMP members at the Vancouver airport in 2007.
The training teaches officers to slow down and try to create a rapport when they come up against someone in mental distress. It’s an excellent model, Coleman said, and he noted that officers everywhere should have to retake that type of training regularly.
Jimmy Lee, the lawyer representing several Toronto police officers, questioned Coleman’s assertion that officers should not automatically draw their weapons.
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“I’m suggesting to you that it would be almost criminally negligent for an officer [in this] situation, where somebody is threatening to kill somebody with a weapon, to come in there and not be prepared for an emergent situation immediately,” Lee said.
He noted that Toronto Police Const. Percy Cummins was fatally shot in 1981, alleging it was because he did not have his weapon out when he arrived.
The inquest into Loku’s death continues Friday.