Vancouver police officers killed Myles Gray on a hot August day in 2015. They pepper sprayed him, handcuffed him and tied his legs together with a strap, and then beat him to death with batons, fists, kicks, knees, and a choke hold. After the prolonged, murderous assault, the Vancouver Police Union instructed the killer cops not to take notes, in violation of Vancouver Police Department (VPD) policy. Despite all of this, none of the officers involved have faced any significant repercussions. Hardeep Sahota, Kory Folkestad, Eric Birzneck, Josh Wong, Nick Thompson, Derek Cain, Beau Spencer, Chris Bowater, John Gravengard, and Kyle Dent all remain Vancouver police officers, and several have been promoted. At least one, Cst. Sahota, was placed in schools.
Finally, after almost eight years, the officers were at least made to testify in a coroner’s inquest into their rampage—with the jury correctly ruling Myles Gray’s death a homicide. Throughout the inquest, which I attended each day, officers offered up their standard fare of victim blaming. They said that Myles had “excited delirium”, a junk science term used to justify police killings. They said was “animalistic,” that “his muscles had muscles”, and that he felt no pain. At one point, Constable Sahota called Myles the Incredible Hulk. All of the tropes they have used to excuse their own deadly rage that day.
Yet despite the fantasies they have relied on to get by themselves, they could not, finally, overcome reality. And that reality came in the form of the autopsy report filed in the days after they killed Myles Gray. It came through the testimony of the forensic pathologist who did that autopsy, the esteemed Dr. Matthew Orde.
What was notable, in addition to the horrific damage the officers did to Myles Gray, was Dr. Orde’s conclusion—Myles Gray would not have died that day had he not encountered police. What killed Myles Gray that day was, in Dr. Orde’s words, “a perfect storm.” But that perfect storm was policing itself.
Murder, not ‘excited delirium’
Dr. Orde’s testimony was nothing less than chilling—a harrowing documentary of murder. He systematically detailed the gruesome injuries inflicted by police.
His report noted multiple blunt force injuries, including multifocal bruising on skin. A tramline appearance of some bruising, that is two linear lines of bruising that indicate Myles was struck by a rigid object—a baton. Bruises on left thigh and right arm. Black eyes on left and right—his right eye socket was “blown out.” Lacerations with skin totally torn, including on the head. A nasal bone fracture. A loose jaw that suggested partial dislocation. There was bleeding around the brain. The upper part of the larynx was fractured. There was a fracture of the third right rib. Testicular hemorrhaging.
Tellingly, no injury alone provided an explanation of why Myles died—the injuries were so many and so complex. More than one could have been fatal. Dr. Orde said the injury to the head could have been potentially lethal.
But one stood out for Dr. Orde. He noted that people who have pressure applied to their neck often die. The injury to the larynx and neck bruising suggest a neck compression process. The court had previously heard of two choke holds (“neck restraints,” even if police don’t like to call them choke holds). Orde said that people in law enforcement restraint positions do often die. It was here that he suggested “a perfect storm” to bring about death. Rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, adrenaline release—from being brutally beaten—and compression of neck.
Notably Dr. Orde dispelled the notion of excited delirium. He stressed that critical analysis of data shows it is unlikely the behavior patterns lumped together under “excited delirium” can independently bring about death.
In contrast to this, Dr. Orde noted that many studies do show the effects of forcible restraint. Especially in a face down, prone position as police had Myles. People restrained forcibly in a face down position have a higher likelihood of death, because this involves compression of chest and abdomen, and compression of heart and blood vessels. Ventilation and cardiac output are diminished. He emphasized that common sense suggests that forcible restraint in any position compromises the heart and lungs.
His summation made the crucial point: Myles Gray would not have died when he did if not for the police interaction on that day. Behavior disturbance contributed only insomuch as contributing to the position he found himself in that day. And that position was being confronted and attacked by police.
By the time he was done, Dr. Orde had fully and completely dispelled the police lies and distortions.
Cop gang culture
Policing culture is that of a gang, but more toxic and more powerful. Closed ranks, silence, superiority, thugishness, secrecy, paranoia. Threats of violence for those who break ranks. And a sneering contempt for those outside the clique. This is most infamously symbolized in the “thin blue line”—the cop view that everything outside of them is a threat to be subdued. An us versus them view where police are the only “us” that counts.
It has long been reported that the Vancouver Police Union instructed the cops not to make notes of what had happened. The inquest heard that this direction came the evening of the killing, and it was given inside VPD headquarters. Four officers confirmed the VPU instructions being given to them by a union official. One, Nick Thompson, recalled it coming from then-VPU president Tom Stamatakis, who has since also been promoted all the way up to head of the Canadian Police Association.
Police culture dispels the notion of the “good apple” cops. Numerous officers saw what their colleagues did to Myles Gray—and they denied it. All who were at the scene denied seeing blood or injuries on Myles’ face despite the fact that it had been beaten to a pulp. Dr. Orde detailed injuries that could not have been overlooked.
All who contributed directly to the beating claimed they saw few or no of the other officers’ blows. Incredibly, throughout all of this, none of the cops stopped the beating (except for when they injured themselves or other cops from their wild blows) to see how Myles was. Even worse, they have persisted in denying seeing even the slightest injury on Myles—not even any blood. It was “tunnel vision” they said—an apt metaphor for society’s focus on policing as the main response to social problems.
Cops instead of care
Had Myles been met with health care supports, or even a compassionate and caring bystander equipped to act, the outcome would have been much different. But our society continues to prioritize police violence over community care resources. And this promotion of police, financially and socially, as the primary response to personal crisis, means not only that police are the only available response but that too many are conditioned to look to police as the first response to fear, insecurity, or discomfort.
Indeed, several of the civilian witnesses who first saw Myles on the street did have concerns about his wellbeing, did want to know if he was alright, did want him to receive some help. A pair of insurance workers testified that they thought about asking him but chose not to. We are taught to fear strangers, and anything that seems strange. To their credit they at least did not call police.
But the first inclination is too often calling the cops. And, in any event, it is the first thing, the first institution, that is deployed anyway. This is part of the storm.
This is a central reason for calls to defund the police. Police not only eat up the bulk of public resources. They also position themselves as the first response for anything, displacing proper and appropriate caring resources. They make society dependent on them and then extend themselves into growing spheres of life to build that dependence and expand their budgets.
Policing is the storm
Police are the state’s monopoly on force, and they are deployed to use it. Even more, cops know that there is no oversight or accountability, and view everything through this lens. They are unchecked power in the service of unaccountable authority. All while stealing essential social resources. This is the perfect storm.
Instituting a force of class violence to maintain a specific type of unequal and unjust social order; prioritizing that force, and funding it to the exclusion of necessary community resources; leaving that force to its own devices with accountability only to itself; and deploying it against any and all imagined transgressions—that is the perfect deadly storm. A storm that will only subside when policing itself is abolished.
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