Poor planning and execution by Montreal police officers played a “decisive role” in the death of a 28-year-old West Island man, according to a medical examiner’s report.
Koray Celik died after an altercation with four police officers at his parents’ home in Île Bizard on 6 March 2017.
His parents called 911 because he had consumed alcohol along with pain pills prescribed for him and was intent on getting behind the wheel.
Shortly after arriving, one of the officers, Karine Bujold, followed the mother down a dimly lit hallway leading to the room where her son was – a move the coroner found questionable.
According to the report, Celik asked the officer to turn off her flashlight. When the officer refused, an argument ensued. As Celik approached the officer, she began to fear for her safety.
That’s when she hit the 28-year-old in the left thigh with her baton, although Celik didn’t budge. Three other officers stepped in and Celik was tackled to the ground.
The Celiks have claimed the officers used excessive force on their son, saying they watched as he was kicked, choked and beaten with batons until he stopped breathing.
The 28-year-old was pronounced dead at the hospital approximately three hours later.
The final autopsy report shows that Celik died of cardiac and respiratory arrest caused by poisoning.
But Dr. Yann Dazé, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Celik, told the coroner’s inquest last fall that the “cocktail” of drugs and alcohol likely would not have been fatal if Celik had not been in an agitated state.
In his report released Friday, Coroner Luc Malouin said officers “missed at least two occasions” to get information that could have significantly changed the chain of events that followed. He also said they could have benefited from information the 911 dispatcher failed to give them.
According to the coroner, the parents were calm when the police showed up.
Malouin wrote that before approaching the 28-year-old man, the officer could have asked questions and realized he did not have his parents’ car keys and therefore could not leave, the three were the only ones in the home and parents expected paramedics would show up, not the police.
Malouin said “with this information, the analysis and urgency of the situation completely changes.”
“Bujold could have waited for his colleagues to arrive and, with the cooperation of the parents, they could have safely made a plan to de-escalate,” the coroner wrote.
“By doing what she did, alone with Mr. Celik, she put her life in danger and ultimately set off a chain of events with the result that we now know.”
In his report, the coroner issued a single recommendation.
He said Montreal police’s 911 service and Quebec’s police academy should look into implementing a communication process to better assist officers during calls, especially those involving people in some form of psychological distress.
The Celiks were originally scheduled to speak at the inquest last fall, but ultimately declined because they had lost faith in the legal process, which they say is meant to protect the police.
Groups call for review of DPCP decision
Lynda Khelil, a spokesperson for The League of Rights et libertés (LDL), a Quebec civil rights group, said in a statement that it is “imperative” that the Quebec government appoints a special independent committee to review Manager criminal cases and criminal proceedings (DPCP) decision on the case.
The DPCP found in May 2019 that officers did nothing criminal during the operation.
The LDL statement also said it is necessary to use Bill 14 as an opportunity to reform Office of Investigation independentendants – Quebec’s police watchdog – because “it is not currently an independent body from the police community.”
Alexandre Popovic, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Police Repression and Police Abuse, said the coroner’s findings are consistent with the Police Ethics Committee’s 2020 order to cite the four officers involved for using excessive force.
As a participant in the coroner’s investigation, Popovic said he proposed a recommendation for future police training to emphasize the contributions a relative of a person in need can make to resolving a crisis.
“The police officers just ignored the parents,” he said. “It was a big mistake because it was the parents who managed to calm their son down before the police arrived. It is obviously the parents who know more than anyone about Koray Celik and how to handle him in this situation.”
Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said given how often the use of excessive force has led to deaths, it is important to continue to assess the effectiveness of police de-escalation tactics and improve the training to “ensure that it has the desired effect.”
“Police departments in Quebec should come up with a comprehensive action plan to address mental health needs and situations involving people in mental health crises,” he said.
Montreal police declined to comment on the report as the case is before the courts. In 2020, the family filed a lawsuit against the city of Montreal and Urgences-santé.