Vancouver Sun: Two years after son fatally shot by police, Victoria mother sues for wrongful death

As seen in Vancouver Sun by Sarah Petrescu (Victoria Times Colonist), 5th November 2016.

Marney Mutch holds a photo of her son Rhett, who was fatally shot by Victoria police in November of 2014. The red ladybug contains the ashes of her son. Mutch is suing for wrongful death.

Marney Mutch holds a photo of her son Rhett, who was fatally shot by Victoria police in November of 2014. The red ladybug contains the ashes of her son. Mutch is suing for wrongful death. Vancouver Sun

VICTORIA — On the second anniversary of her son being shot and killed by a Victoria police officer, Marney Mutch hand-delivered a notice of a wrongful death lawsuit to the police department and the city.

“I said: ‘This is for the loss of my son two years ago today,’” said Mutch, speaking at her Victoria home where her son Rhett Mutch, 20, was killed on Nov. 1, 2014.

“He (an officer) said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ and took it,” she said.

Mutch said she filed the claim in a continuing effort to find out what happened to her son and to see change result from his death.

Seven unnamed officers are listed in the suit, which seeks a range of damages and submits they were negligent, violated charter rights and used excessive force.

“I want them all to acknowledge this was a perfect storm of everything that could go wrong … and get the crisis intervention training they need,” Mutch said.

Victoria police said they could not comment on the case but that their training is constantly updated.

“This training evolution results from incidents that have occurred with our officers, as well as those that have occurred with other police agencies locally, provincially, nationally and internationally,” said Const. Matt Rutherford.

“In concert with ongoing updated, evolving training, we also examine and update our policies and procedures to proactively ensure that we are compliant with legislative requirements and public expectations.”

Rhett was shot in the neck less than an hour after his mother called 911 because he had broken into her home after being asked to stay away. He was upset and threatened himself with a steak knife.

Several officers responded. She was escorted out of the house while officers entered. Moments later, Rhett was dead.

The Victoria police officer who shot Rhett was cleared of wrongdoing in a report by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. released in June.

“There is no evidence to support that the involved officers had any malice against, or motivation to do harm to, the affected person or use any force against him other than what was reasonably necessary to take him into lawful custody,” said the IIO, a civilian-led organization that investigates incidents of serious harm and death involving police.

The IIO pointed out concerns over police actions that day, including “significant communication barriers.”

The officers did not know or ask if anyone else was in the house and the shooting officer told investigators he would not have gone in the house and would have followed a different procedure if he knew Rhett was alone and suicidal.

Mutch said she has spent months going over the 29-page report and found concerning discrepancies. Some were minor errors.

“The officer who walked me out of the house said he put me in the car and then heard a gunshot. That’s not true. I was standing right beside him outside of the car,” she said.

Others points raised serious issues, she said: “They said the bean bag gun didn’t work. But it hit him in the centre of the thigh leaving a huge bruise.”

In her living room, framed photos of Rhett and the words, “You make me proud everyday,” hang over the couch where she last saw her son, feet from where he died.

When she moved a cabinet, she found a small blood splatter on the wall. She has left it, in hopes an investigator would come look again.

“I believe the officer panicked and shot him at the same time as the bean bag shot. I believe he (Rhett) put down the knife, stood up and was going to go with them,” Mutch said.

She also questions an officer’s account about kicking the knife out of Rhett’s hand.

Mutch has taken her concerns about the report to the IIO.

Marten Youssef, the IIO’s communications manager, confirmed that there has been a request from the affected person’s family, and said it is being assessed.

“The IIO has not reopened this investigation,” Youssef said.

Mutch said parents are treated “almost as nuisances in these situations.”

“A condescending politeness, but no real information. But who else will defend our sons and make sure this doesn’t happen to others?”

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About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Premier of British Columbia, David Eby, is responsible for the modernization of BC’s wrongful death laws. Our Society provided David Eby with the drafted ‘Wrongful Death Accountability Act’ when he was acting as the Attorney General for British Columbia for 6 years between 2017-2022. The new Attorney General, Niki Sharma, also shares responsibility as she is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the current guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Sharma receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, David Eby, who is ultimately responsible for modernization.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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