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Edmonton police

Witnesses saw 'copter
Fatality inquiry testimonies contradict cops

Edmonton Police Crest

Three independent witnesses told a fatality inquiry yesterday they saw a mystery chopper circling before two men fell to their deaths - despite contrary claims by the RCMP.

The inquiry is looking into the Sept. 24, 1999, deaths of Adam Miller, 21, and Huu Pham, 15, who plunged from a fourth-floor balcony during a police raid.

The surprise raid was planned as part of an operation targeting an alleged major drug gang.

As tactical officers battered down the apartment door, a flash-bang concussion device was fired at the balcony.

A second device was thrown into the suite and detonated after the door was knocked in. Miller and Pham fell from the balcony during the raid.

Thinh Duc Vu, now 33, was arrested in the morning raid.

Vu said yesterday he was halfway onto the balcony when he saw a "smoke-bomb" fly past him and strike the railing with a loud noise.

He had just seen Pham and Miller clambering onto the railing, said Vu. He then turned to see where the object came from, he said.

"I turned back and they were already gone," Vu said. "Then I looked up in the air and I saw a helicopter."

It was about 15 metres away with its rear doors open, he said. Behind the pilot were two people, and Vu said he thought they had guns.

"That's when I was scared, I lied down and put my hands on my head. At first I thought they shot those two guys, that's why I was really scared and I lied down."

Charges against Vu were later stayed by the Crown, but he was in the Edmonton Remand Centre yesterday pending an immigration hearing.

On Nov. 26, Mounties told a provincial court there are no records of a helicopter being at the raid at that time, although there might have been one called to the scene later.

Cody White Wolf, 47, who saw events from his apartment suite in the same building, said the helicopter was present during the entire raid.

"It was circling," he said.

White Wolf said the helicopter was hovering at about the height of the building's roof when an officer in the parking lot fired a flash-bang into the suite.

White Wolf also said he saw a person with a video camera - who arrived with police - standing behind the same officer who fired the device into the suite.

Mary Koska, 81, said she was taking out her garbage when she heard two loud bangs and saw Pham and Miller plunge to their deaths.

She said she also saw the helicopter.

"I was afraid it was going to land in my yard," said Koska, who lives alone in her home near the apartment building.

Koska said she saw the helicopter come in just below the roof of the building. "It was circling around before that."

Tom Engel, the lawyer representing the Miller family, said he will make an application today to have all the people who were in the helicopter named and called to testify.


Cop details flash-bang use in raid, inquiry hears

The cop who lobbed a flash-bang during a police raid in which two men plunged to their deaths was told to throw the device if the balcony was empty, a fatality inquiry heard yesterday.

Adam Miller, 21, and Huu Pham, 15, plunged from a fourth-floor balcony during a raid at 12925 65 St. on Sept. 24, 1999. The raid was part of an operation targeting an alleged major drug gang.

Const. Ken Brander, team leader of the tactical unit which conducted the raid, told the fatality inquiry he gave an officer instructions about lobbing the device.

"If it's an empty balcony when he goes to deploy it, I told him to deploy it at the level of the railing," said Brander. "I said, hopefully it would go off in the general area of the railing. If it goes off on the balcony, that's no problem either. If the balcony is clear and he can see it."

The inquiry heard two flash-bang devices were detonated during the raid. Tom Engel, the lawyer for the Miller family, contends a flash-bang played a role in the fatal plunge of the two young men. Intelligence given to the tactical unit about the suite was abundant, Brander said, and included a "likelihood" there would be guns inside.

Officers were told it was "a place to flop for the night, a place to store your drugs or to store your weapons," he said. And given information that gang members were there, Brander said, this would have led the officers to "step up" their tactics.

He also dismissed claims by three independent witnesses who said they saw a helicopter present, saying he was on the balcony as it concluded and saw no such aircraft.


Cameraman saw little of fatal bust

The mysterious cameraman who taped a police raid in which two men fell to their deaths stepped out of the shadows at a fatality inquiry yesterday.

He turned out to be Gary Kinaschuk, a civilian videographer who works for Edmonton police - the same man identified during earlier testimony by a city cop who didn't recognize him in a photograph of the scene.

The video he captured as police stormed a fourth-floor suite at 12925 65 St. on Sept. 24, 1999, doesn't show much, Kinaschuk testified yesterday.

"We barely had an opportunity to catch up to the tail end, basically," he said. "I even had a hard time hearing what was going on."

Kinaschuk and his assistant were supposed to accompany a tactical squad as they carried out a warrant during a citywide bust in the hope of using the footage in training videos. But they arrived late because the squad accidentally left them behind at RCMP K-Division headquarters after a briefing on the morning of the raid, he said.

Kinaschuk said he was allowed closer to the action than he'd expected, but he had to wait outside the suite while the people inside were being arrested. An RCMP officer closed the door so they couldn't see anything.

Meanwhile, Adam Miller, 21, and Huu Pham, 15, plunged from the balcony. A lawyer for Miller's family contends they fell because a flash-bang device was detonated near them as they tried to climb down.

Kinaschuk said he returned to the building's parking lot when he heard paramedics were working on two injured people there. He didn't film their fall from the balcony.

Judge Leo Wenden is considering applications by the Sun and the CBC to allow reporters to be present as observers during closed-door portions of the hearing.


Tac-team cop denies leg whack excessive

A city police tactical team member told a fatality inquiry yesterday that the "leg stun" he gave a man during a 1999 police raid wasn't excessive use of force.

"If you're expecting us to get down on our knees and beg them to get down, that's not going to happen," Const. Adam Morrison told the inquiry, as he explained how he used his leg to strike another man's leg on a sofa. The man wouldn't listen to police directions to get down, he said.

"You have to get everybody down and under control," added Morrison, pointing out that in such cases officers often don't know whether people in the room have weapons hidden.

Morrison was testifying during an inquiry into the deaths of Adam Miller, 21, and Huu Pham, 15, who both plunged from a fourth-floor balcony during a raid at 12925 65 St. Sept. 24, 1999.

The raid was part of an operation targeting an alleged major drug gang.

Morrison said the "leg stun" came after he rammed the door to get inside the suite. Morrison said it took him about five or six tries with his 35-pound ram to open the door.

"Unfortunately that day I had the small ram," said Morrison, who backed away from the door once it was open to let other police officers inside.

City police Det. Rick Bandura, who was a member of the tactical team in 1999, later testified he left the suite and went outside next to Miller.

While he was outside, Bandura said he also saw a helicopter above the apartment, which was visible for about 30 seconds.

"There was no great deal of hovering," said Bandura. Bandura added he surmised the chopper was "a piece of support equipment."

The inquiry is expected to continue today.


Flash-bang evidence sheds little light

Flash-bang residue tests on the clothing of a teen who plunged to his death from a balcony during a police raid were inconclusive, a fatality inquiry heard yesterday.

The inquiry into the Sept. 24, 1999, deaths of Adam Miller, 21, and Huu Pham, 15, who plunged from a fourth-floor balcony at 12925 65 St., heard that a police dog handler saw Pham wearing a T-shirt and track pants moments before he died. But the forensics officer who collected Pham's belongings for evidence said yesterday he only found the boy's pants.

"When I received the bag, the top was open," said Const. Steve Jones.

When questioned by Tom Engel, the lawyer for the Miller family, Jones said he agreed it would be "highly irregular" for a T-shirt not to be turned over to him in light of the dog handler's statement.

Two flash-bangs were used in the raid - one was tossed in the front door and another towards the balcony. Engel says the diversionary devices may have played a role in the deaths of the young men. But forensics Const. Dave Bittman told the inquiry he found no flash-bang residue on the balcony.

Bittman was called to the scene at 10:40 a.m. that day, but he and Jones could not get into the suite until 12:15 p.m.

After about 35 minutes of examination, they left. But Bittman was called back to re-examine the balcony by a senior officer. He returned at 2:25 p.m. and spent about 20 minutes studying the balcony, he said.

"Directly on the floor, on the carpet and on the linoleum, was flash-bang residue," he said. "That is what I was looking for. This was my first exposure to flash-bang residue."

Bittman said he took a sample of the residue from the kitchen floor for comparison.

"There was nothing on that balcony which was consistent with the residue on the floor."

Engel suggested evidence may have been contaminated by the presence of other cops, who may have been on the balcony between Bittman's inspections.

"To my knowledge, nothing had been changed or altered on that balcony with respect to residue," Bittman said.


Teen had T-shirt, death probe told
Article of clothing has not been recovered

The city cop who saw Huu Pham plunge to his death during a police raid told a fatality inquiry yesterday that the boy was wearing a T-shirt - a piece of evidence forensic experts have never recovered.

"I remember that very clearly," said city police dog handler Const. Dave Monson, referring to the plunge.

"I thought the Asian man had on black sweat pants and a T-shirt."

The inquiry is looking into the deaths of Pham, 15, and Adam Miller, 21, who died Sept. 24, 1999, when they plunged from a fourth-floor balcony at 12925 65 St. Monson was near the cop who lobbed a flash-bang device towards the balcony.

"I saw the motion and I knew what was happening, but I wasn't watching him do it, only through my peripheral vision." He was not in a position to see the balcony, he said.

City police forensics Const. Steve Jones said Thursday he was given a bag of Pham's personal items to take as evidence, but that bag didn't contain a T-shirt. Jones testified he sent the pants he found in the bag, which was open, to an RCMP lab for tests.

The pants were examined for traces of flash-bang residue, but the results were inconclusive, the inquiry heard.

Monson told the inquiry he was in a carport under the building during the raid. A couple of seconds after the flash-bang went off, he saw Pham and Miller hit the pavement. Pham landed closest to him, he said.

"I only saw the last eight or 10 feet of the fall," he said. "I thought we had two people trying to escape."

Monson said he quickly realized they were seriously injured and as other officers arrived, he backed off. He then returned the dog to his car.

Other than when he talked to his lawyer recently, Monson said yesterday was the first time he has been officially asked about what he saw. He said he wasn't interviewed by homicide detectives, although he knew about an investigation.

Const. Mike Garth said at the inquiry yesterday he remembered Pham wore only pants - no shirt. Garth is now a city police officer, but was a tactical paramedic on the raid.

"I asked two of the (city police) members to start cutting off his clothes so I could assess his injuries," said Garth.

"If he was wearing pants and a T-shirt, everything would have been cut off."

Garth admitted during questioning by Tom Engel, lawyer for the Miller family, that he was advised before testifying that the absence of Pham's shirt was an issue at the inquiry.

"In terms of clothing, I don't know what happened to the clothing," said Garth.

The inquiry also heard from Det. Brian Serbin, a city police officer who was aboard the RCMP chopper that was in the air during the raid. He said the helicopter was hovering northwest of the city when the raid was launched.

"Categorically, we were not at the site when this would have transpired," he said.


Fatal falls from balcony shocked police officer, inquiry hears 1999 sweep of 40 Edmonton homes checked for drug trafficking

EDMONTON - Moments after a city police tactical unit burst into a fourth-floor apartment suite using a steel ram and "flash-bang" diversionary devices, Sgt. John Lamb heard an unexpected call on his radio.

An officer in the parking lot below was asking for medical assistance. Lamb thought someone may have been bitten by a police dog or hit by the hard shell of a flash-bang device detonated outside.

But when he looked down from the apartment's bedroom window, he saw two bodies sprawled on the pavement.

"It caught me off-guard," Lamb told a fatality inquiry Monday.

"I was shocked by that. At that time, I still wasn't sure where they came from."

The inquiry is investigating the deaths of Adam Stanley Miller, 21, of Edmonton, and Huu Dinh Pham, 15, of Calgary.

Both died of massive head injuries after falling from a balcony railing during the Sept. 24, 1999, police raid on the apartment at 12925 65th St.

The incident occurred during a sweep by 300 police officers at 40 Edmonton homes and businesses that led to dozens of arrests on charges of cocaine trafficking and membership in a criminal gang.

Lamb described the operation at the apartment building as a high-risk execution of a search warrant.

The suite was a known safe house used by members of a violent gang involved in the drug trade.

The tactical team's eight members expected to encounter firearms and were armed themselves, mostly with submachine guns, Lamb testified. They wore helmets and heavy vests.

About 10:20 a.m., they entered the building and silently climbed the stairs to the fourth floor.

On Lamb's instruction, one officer started bashing a steel ram into the suite's door. The plan was to have an officer in the parking lot below detonate a flash-bang at the same time.

The door had already been rammed twice when the flash-bang went off outside. After three to five rams, the door opened and officers rushed into the suite, yelling "Police!"

Another flash-bang was detonated inside the suite, near the kitchen.

Police found two people in the bedroom and four more in the living room. Lamb, the last officer into the suite, said he didn't know at the time anybody had been on the balcony.

After the radio call from below, an emergency medical technician who was backing up the tactical unit rushed down to the parking lot and began administering first aid.

But even from four floors up, "it didn't look good for the two people lying outside," Lamb said.

Under cross-examination, Lamb said that until the two men became victims, he considered the raid a success.

"I truly believe that if we were to do it again today, I'd do it the same way."

Miller and Pham were taken by ambulance to the University Hospital. Pham died that afternoon. Miller was kept alive until early the next day so his organs could be donated.

Pathologist Dr. George Wood said his autopsies revealed that Miller hit the ground on his right side, with his hands outstretched to protect himself. Pham landed on his back.

Neither body showed evidence of burns or projectile injuries, Wood said.

The inquiry, before provincial court Judge Leo Wenden, was closed to the public for part of Monday while lawyers discussed documents related to police tactical training and policy.


4 cops have records
Look at cases individually: police panel head

Four Edmonton cops are still serving on the force despite having criminal records, the head of the Edmonton Police Commission has confirmed.

"As of this date there are four officers who have criminal convictions, two of which are for assault and two of which are for impaired driving," Martin Ignasiak told the Sun. "As far as I'm aware, none of them are at this time suspended."

Ignasiak had no details about when the cops were convicted, or whether the offences happened while the officers were on duty.

"I think most police officers understand that if they are convicted of an offence - whether it be while engaged in their duties as a police officer or while on their own time - that they are putting their careers at risk," Ignasiak said.

"There have been officers who have been suspended with pay or without pay or even dismissed from the service as a result of not only criminal convictions but other (non-criminal) disciplinary matters."

Ignasiak agreed the public perception is that police shouldn't have records for breaking the law. But a blanket ban on cops with convictions is too inflexible, he said.

"I think you have to look at each case individually," he said.

"I think that people can foresee that there may be circumstances under which an officer may be convicted of an offence where, after reviewing all the facts, it's clear that that officer can still contribute to the Edmonton Police Service and be a valuable member of that service."

Police undergo a rigorous recruitment process that includes security checks, he added.


Cops might be criminals
EPS doesn't track officers with records

The Edmonton Police Service doesn't track the number of police officers with criminal records still employed by the service.

EPS spokesman Dean Parthenis said that in his experience, the most common work-related criminal charge to be filed against an EPS officer is assault.

But, he added, the service doesn't maintain a central record of which serving officers were convicted of criminal offences.

"It's just never been done," he said.

"The information exists. It's just a matter of going out and finding it."

And both Parthenis and Edmonton Police Association president Staff Sgt. Peter Ratcliff contend the number of serving officers with criminal records would be small.

"Probably less than five or six," said Ratcliff. "I can think of one conviction for a minor assault.

"We've had guys who were up on more substantial charges, like sexual assault, who were just fired."

Tom Engel chairs the police conduct committee for the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association. He said the fact EPS can't cite the number of serving officers with criminal convictions suggests the service isn't concerned with tracking "problem" officers.

"The police don't properly handle complaints from the public against officers," he said.

"They don't investigate properly; the investigations are biased."

As an example, Engel cited the recent EPS decision to launch an internal investigation into the conduct of Const. Mike Wasylyshen, son of EPS Chief Bob Wasylyshen, instead of calling in outside investigators.

Const. Wasylyshen was attacked in a judge's written court ruling in September for leaving information out of a search warrant application.

As a result, three drug trafficking charges were thrown out of court.

"That's a pretty good example of the overall cavalier attitude taken by the EPS," said Engel. "It's bunker mentality."

The EPS conducts an internal investigation when one of its members has been charged with a criminal offence. Depending on the severity of the crime, the Police Act provides for penalties ranging from fines to termination - over and above any court-imposed sentence.

Ratcliff said the association is "concerned" whenever a police officer is charged with a criminal offence unrelated to his job, and then punished again under the Police Act.

The question of police with criminal records came up in Vancouver this week, after a Vancouver city police spokesman confirmed four serving officers had records for assault.

The statement came just days after six other Vancouver officers who were suspended with pay pleaded guilty to the crime.