A young man killed by police in Crescent Beach two years ago was warned several times to drop his weapon before shots rang out, a jury tasked to determine the facts heard Monday.
A witness testifying at the inquest into the death of Brendon Samuel Beddow told coroner Margaret Janzen he heard police give the order “eight to 10” times, followed by four shots.
“He said, ‘Brendon, drop your gun. We will shoot you… put the gun down,’” Eric Benetti, who had been working nearby, recalled of the officer’s words that afternoon.
Police were dispatched to the 3000-block of McBride Avenue around 2 p.m. March 23, 2011, after a woman called 911 to report a domestic disturbance. Peace Arch News reported at the time that officers who arrived at a Spanish-style home moments later were confronted by a man, and shots were exchanged.
An earlier investigation by Vancouver Police Department cleared the officers involved in Beddow’s death of any criminal wrongdoing.
Monday, as Beddow’s mother listened, a woman identified only as Beddow’s girlfriend testified that the 23-year-old had showed up uninvited at the house where she was staying and became violent with her.
“Choking, kicking, pushing,” the woman said. “From what I remember, Brendon said he was going to kill me and then kill himself.”
Asked by inquest counsel Rodrick MacKenzie if she had seen a gun, the woman replied, “he always had guns.”
Over the course of her testimony, she confirmed that both she and Beddow were under the influence of drugs at the time; that Beddow was known to use cocaine, heroin, crack and other drugs; that Beddow owed people a lot of money; and that she knew of two previous suicide attempts by Beddow.
The woman – who answered many questions with one word, and often paused before doing so – told the inquest she locked Beddow out following the threat, but that instead of leaving, he went around to the back of the house and used a chair to smash through heavy glass doors to get back in.
At that point, she ran next door – where Benetti and fellow carpenter Kris Elvevoll were working – and hid upstairs. Shortly after, she heard “yelling, swearing, gunshots.”
Benetti said the woman’s arrival was the second time she had been on the neighbour’s property that day, and that he had seen Beddow push her during a verbal altercation shortly before. About five minutes later, she came to the workers and told them “he’s trashing the place.” She appeared to be on the phone with police at the same time, he said.
“Because we were scared for her safety, we took her into the house we were working on, locked the door” and told her to wait in an upstairs closet, Benetti said.
Police arrived and “right away” drew their guns, Benetti said.
Benetti described both Beddow and the young woman as “quite agitated… maybe high on something.” He could not see if Beddow had a gun, but said the woman told him, when asked, that there was one in the house.
Elvevoll testified he didn’t give the initial altercation between Beddow and the woman much weight, and said he didn’t hear anything about Beddow possibly having a gun.
Regarding the verbal exchange between Beddow and police, he said Beddow was “kind of crazy with rage,” repeatedly swearing at the officers when they ordered him to drop his gun.
Witness Linda D’onofrio described seeing Beddow waving a gun back and forth in front of the officers and hearing him swearing at them repeatedly as they ordered him to drop the gun. Then, she heard five pops.
“It was surreal,” D’onofrio said of the incident. “I think it took a while for it to sink in that this was really happening.”
A total of 19 witnesses are expected to testify at the inquest, which is scheduled for three days in Burnaby. MacKenzie told the jury they will hear evidence that Beddow was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest, but that he also had “a level of cocaine within a lethal range” in his system.
It is up to the jury to determine the facts surrounding Beddow’s death. They cannot make findings of legal responsibility, but may make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.
Beddow’s death was the second police-shooting fatality in less than a month. Three weeks earlier, 28-year-old Adam Purdie was killed following a police chase in South Surrey.
An inquest last month into Purdie’s death offered four recommendations, including that dash cameras be installed in all active police patrol cars.