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Jeffrey Berg

Vancouver cop cleared in Berg death

Jeffrey Berg David Bruce-Thomas

VANCOUVER - An adjudicator with the B.C. Police Complaints Commission has ruled a Vancouver police constable did not use excessive force the night Jeffrey Berg died.

The 37-year-old Jeffrey Berg died after being taken into custody in October 2000, for a suspected break-and-enter.

An autopsy revealed he had received eight blows to the head, and had boot marks on his face.

He suffered an aneurysm and a heart attack as the result of a blow to the neck, and died in hospital several days later.

The conduct of Const. David Bruce-Thomas, the first officer on the scene, was the focus of a hearing ordered by the Complaints Commission.

He testified he was the only officer at the scene, and had ordered Berg to remain in his car and that when Berg did not comply, he tried to kick him several times.

The commission dealt with the issue after Berg's sister, Julie Berg-Wyman, filed a formal complaint alleging excessive force.

Julie Berg

She says Friday's ruling is an "absolute shock" to her, and that she plans to continue her "fight for justice" for her brother.

"This goes to show a complainant in the province of British Columbia who has a complaint against a Vancouver police officer hasn't a hope in getting a conviction failing having a video of the assault."

Berg-Wyman notes several people witnessed the incident: "A grievous assault on an unarmed man who was not moving, who was frozen like a statue, who was surrendering, waiting to be handcuffed."

But adjudicator Brian Weddell found the witness statements did not provide "clear and cogent" evidence of excessive force.

He ruled that force was reasonable, given the officer believed he was dealing with an armed home invasion suspect.

Berg-Wyman complains that the four-year long investigation has focused on her brother, instead of the officer who's actions led to her brother's death.

Later on Friday, Vancouver Police Chief Jamie Graham spoke out about the case, accusing Berg-Wyman and other critics of "waging a public campaign against the department and Constable Bruce-Thomas.

"Their campaign has been peppered with half truths and vicious accusations."

"While we continue to sympathize with the grief the Berg family has experienced with this loss, we also greatly sympathize with Constable David Bruce-Thomas, and the trauma and anxiety that he and his family have suffered as the result of years of investigations, and the seemingly endless media coverage that's parroted every attack on his character and professionalism."

"While we continue to sympathize with the grief the Berg family has experienced with this loss, we also greatly sympathize with Constable David Bruce-Thomas, and the trauma and anxiety that he and his family have suffered as the result of years of investigations, and the seemingly endless media coverage that's parroted every attack on his character and professionalism."


Excessive-force complaint revised

VANCOUVER - The Police Complaints Commission has altered the allegations against a Vancouver police officer in connection with the death of Jeff Berg.

The 37-year-old Berg died while being arrested four years ago during a suspected home invasion. The Commission is trying to determine whether Const. David Bruce-Thomas used excessive force while arresting Berg in October 2000.

The original complaint contained the phrase "causing the death." But Police Complaints Commission lawyer Dana Urban says the phrase is unnecessary and the complaint has been amended.

"Those words do not appear in the act itself," he says. "All that is necessary is to determine whether or not David Bruce-Thomas abused his authority by using unnecessary force."

"Unlike Criminal Code provisions, where death is part of the section, those words do not appear under the Police Act."

But Jeff Berg's sister Julie says she's shocked by the change that the phrase was crucial to the hearing.

"That's the whole purpose of this," she says. "The use of the force is what caused his death in my opinion, and so I think it's crucial that be included.

The Complaints Commission hearing into Berg's death resumed on Monday.

Last month, a coroner's inquest ruled Berg's death was a homicide. But coroner's juries never assign blame.

On the other hand, the Police Complaints Commission can find fault, and Bruce-Thomas could lose his job if he were found to have used excessive force.


Berg's death a homicide, says jury

VANCOUVER - The coroner's jury has ruled that the death of Jeff Berg, while in police custody nearly four years ago, is a homicide that he died as the result of the actions of another person.

Berg died while being arrested by Vancouver police in October 2000, for an alleged break-in at a marijuana grow op.

An autopsy found he had sustained eight blows to the head, including boot marks on his face. He suffered an aneurysm and heart attack, after being hit in the neck.

Witnesses accused police of kicking Berg repeatedly and of using a gun butt on the back of his head.

The Berg family's lawyer, Cameron Ward, welcomes the jury's finding. "Jeff Berg met his death as a result of a homicide. And it wasn't an accident, he didn't die of natural causes.

"There was some suggestion that the death was a fluke, that this aneurysm was a fluke. It wasn' t that.

"And the jury if one reads the recommendations that it listed clearly felt that some police practices were wanting.

The jury made eight recommendations including installing cameras on police cruisers, as well as periodic training on the application of force.

The jury is also calling for regular mental and psychological assessments for officers on high-stress assignments.

The Police Complaints Commissioner is also looking into the circumstances of Berg's death. That review will resume next month.

Berg's sister hopes the coroner's jury's findings will prompt the Crown to re-assess the evidence, and proceed with criminal charges against the officer involved in her brother's death.

Julie Berg, who has played a prominent role in pushing for an investigation, says she feels "vindicated" by the jury's ruling.

"The jury had a hard task and they certainly found that the findings is what I've maintained all along," she says. "And they were able to find those findings throughout all of this amazing several weeks of testimony

"The jury did an amazing job. The finding of homicide is really a victory today for Jeff Berg," she says.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Police Chief Jamie Graham is standing by the actions of the constable involved that night noting that Const. David Bruce-Thomas was on his own at the time of the arrest, and should be commended for his actions.

"I and every member of the department continue to support Const. David Bruce-Thomas," he says. "He has been on active duty throughout, and will continue on active duty."

Graham says the officer was responding to a 911 call about a violent home invasion, and expected to be confronted by four armed men.

"This is the serious type of crime our member was responding to that night. Not a traffic stop. Not a routine call. We believe the citizens of Vancouver have a right to know that."

Chief Graham also points to the replica gun found at the scene, and notes a wire cord and a pair of scissors were taken from Berg's pockets.

"There's no doubt that he intended to tie the family up with this cord, and could well have used the scissors as a weapon against Const. Bruce-Thomas"

"It is also important for you to know that witnesses with close personal relationships were well aware that Jeff Berg had repeatedly been involved in home invasions," says Graham.

But Berg has no criminal record. And no one has been convicted in this particular incident.

Ward worries the police chief is setting himself up as judge and jury.

"It's not his position to make those sorts of judgments as to what Jeff Berg may or may not have done. The police are putting a construction on this that suits their ends."


Police hit man from behind, says witness

VANCOUVER - A coroner's inquest into the death of Jeff Berg has heard from a woman who says she saw Vancouver Police officers knock Berg down and hit him without provocation.

Berg died while in police custody in October 2000.

Sari Fujikawa lived above the alleyway, where Berg was stopped by police for his alleged involvement in theft from a marijuana grow-op.

Fujikawa wept as she told the court she saw a police officer hit Berg in the neck from behind with the butt of his gun.

She said he fell to the ground, and crumpled up into a fetal position.

Fujikawa says police officers then kicked and punched Berg in the head.

Berg suffered severe brain damage. He later died after he was taken off life support

She told coroner and the five-person jury that she didn't see Berg acting aggressively toward the officers.

The inquest was ordered earlier this year, but a planned Police Complaints Commission inquiry into the man's death is yet to go ahead.

Berg's older brother, Glen, says he was originally told a different story by police after his brother died.

"They were telling us that he just collapsed," he says. "The first few days the story was a lot different from the police."

The inquest is expected to resume Monday.


Public hearing ordered after man dies in police custody

VANCOUVER - A public hearing has been ordered to look into why a man died while in Vancouver Police custody two years ago.

Jeffrey Michael Berg died from a blow to the neck while being arrested for a break and enter.

B.C.'s Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld ordered the hearing after an internal Vancouver Police investigation failed to lay any charges.

Berg and three others were stopped by police in October 2000 outside a marijuana grow operation.

A Web site set up by Jeff Berg's family says witnesses allege an officer hit him near the head with his gun and repeatedly kicked him after he had fallen to the ground.

Witnesses also contend Berg then went into cardiac arrest and that police refused to call for medical help. Berg was never revived and was taken off life support two days later.

Ryneveld says there was too much conflicting testimony in the investigation done by the Vancouver Police.

"Someone has died in custody," he said. "There were considerations about inconsistent statements and the only way to arrive at the truth of the matter is to hold a public hearing where the truth could be ascertained because the witnesses will be under oath and subject to cross-examination."

Ryneveld says an officer brought before a public hearing is held to the "civil" standard of proof, which is based on a balance of probability and is less stringent than the "criminal" standard, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.