North Van RCMP officer won’t face charges in death of Dani Cooper

There will be no charges for a North Vancouver RCMP officer after the deadly shooting of a person in mental distress last year.

That decision comes from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of BC, which released its report into the Nov. 12, 2022 incident that claimed the life of Dani Cooper.

The IIO says Cooper had a paring knife and was in distress when officers arrived. Ultimately, police shot the non-binary trans activist, leading to the 27-year-old’s death.

“It was unsafe for any officer to attempt to arrest AP (Affected Person) until AP dropped the knife,” the IIO wrote in its decision. “After issuing commands to which AP did not respond, WO1 appropriately took action by deploying her CEW. When that did not work, and the situation escalated further as AP moved towards the officers, SO (Subject Officer) used his firearm to prevent AP from stabbing him or other officers.”

Despite the watchdog finding the officers did not commit an offence, advocates are calling for major changes to responses when people are in mental distress.

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Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society says police shouldn’t be involved.

“There is no positive resolution in this situation,” she told CityNews.

“A young person’s life was taken. Dani was only 27 years old when they died. There’s no bringing them back. However, as I work alongside families, I think there’s this eternal search for justice and more and more it’s very clear that these oversight systems, as well as case law, frankly, surrounding police use of force, is woefully abysmal.”

Mannoe says she is not convinced that the presence of the knife justified the use of force.

“I think it really falls short of what a reasonable person would anticipate. Dani Cooper was very small in size and stature — 911 callers actually reported that they were a teenager going into people’s houses,” she explained, adding Cooper was “barely 5’2″ and about 110 lbs.”

She argues there were other options police could have chosen.

“We don’t have laws that set out police should use the minimal force required. Instead, because in this case, Dani Cooper who was in distress, who was likely in psychosis, had a small, four-inch paring knife, like a kitchen knife, police use of force was found to be completely justified by the IIO,” Mannoe told CityNews.

“It really just seems like ‘they had a knife’ is the term that police can rely on to basically justify any amount of force, even if the person is 110 lbs. soaking wet, frail, not in great medical condition.”

A mural painted in honour of Dani Cooper

A mural painted in honour of Dani Cooper. Cooper was shot and killed by North Vancouver RCMP officers in November 2022. (Submitted by Dennis Cooper)

Mannoe says she was with the Cooper family on Thursday when they received news of the IIO’s decision.

As they’ve done before, Cooper’s family and Pivot Legal Society are calling for systemic changes to the way mental health calls are handled.

“Look, people experience distress. The world is very distressing and, frankly, it’s getting more and more distressing. Couple that with the realities of a contaminated and poisoned drug supply, we need a non-police response. We need responses that actually meet people where they’re at, that know how to do competent de-escalation,” Mannoe explained.

“De-escalation doesn’t come at the tip of a Taser — it happens in the lead up to crisis, it happens when you try to create a connection with someone, even if they do have a knife.”

Dani’s father, Dennis, told CityNews this is not the outcome the family was hoping for.

“It was really clear to us from the onset of the report that the IIO is constructed to look at the legal framework of whether a police officer is legally authorized to use force, not whether they had other options, whether they could have, or should have, or morally, had an obligation to explore other options,” he said.

“There was no mention whatsoever of any conflict in de-escalation training, whether the officers had any, whether they tried to apply them to any degree, other than saying ‘put the knife down.’ So that was pretty tough to hear that it seems quite biased in that regard, just from a very anesthetized legal perspective. And there was very little focus on what may or may not have been done instead.”

Dennis says that Dani was a student at the University of Victoria, studying social justice, and was an advocate “for the removal of police from mental wellness situations.”

“They would have said that they did not want the police officer to be punished, they would rather see the system change,” Dennis said.

Dennis says he believes police are not trained to handle mental health issues, calling for more resources to address these matters, something that he continues to advocate for.

“There is no mention in the report about conflict and de-escalation training. Did the officers have any? We know from our own research that officers received a webinar for three hours of conflict and de-escalation training in depot at the beginning of their training,” he said.

Dennis says officers get annual firearm recertification, and he would like to see similar certification for mental health.

“They need a situation-based conflict and de-escalation certification program that has them revisit this kind of de-escalation training every year,” he said.

Although he notes that there has been progress in establishing a park-and-ride program that pairs healthcare professionals with officers, he says more needs to be done.

“The legal threshold of whether an officer feels like they’re threatened isn’t enough. It’s not a high enough bar of accountability and so we’ll continue to campaign for that to be providing officers with more choices, more training, and more subjectiveness into how they apply or don’t apply lethal force,” he said.

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