Family of Beau Baker 'deeply concerned' after inquest jury rules his death a suicide
An inquest jury has found that Beau Baker, 20, died by suicide with the cause of death being a gunshot wound in the torso.
The inquest jury made 24 recommendations in total, including ten recommendations to the province of Ontario and two to the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS). Most of the recommendations are aimed at preventing similar deaths and improving mental health support.
Baker was armed with a knife when he was shot and killed by a WRPS officer outside his Brybeck Crescent apartment on April 2, 2015.
The officer who shot Baker, Staff Sgt. Eric Boynton, was cleared of criminal wrong-doing by the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 2015.
WRPS OFFICER’S TESTIMONY
Earlier in the inquest, Boynton gave his testimony to the jury.
Boynton, a patrol constable at the time, said he received the call about what was going on. He was told that a male with a knife, who was not easy to take down, was threatening to stab emergency responders if they came to the scene.
“I was so concerned for the safety of the caller and the public possibly, depending on if he did the things he said he was going to do, that I had an ambulance put on standby for the benefit of anyone who may need one,” Boynton explained.
When he arrived, the officer said he asked about something he saw shimmering in Baker’s hand.
“He held it up in a stabbing motion and said literally, and I quote, ‘a really sharp knife’,” he added.
The next time Boynton testified, he said he realized the person holding the knife was the person dispatch told him was threatening to kill emergency responders and passersby.
Boynton said he was worried about Baker killing himself or others, so he drew his firearm and pointed it at him.
Boynton said Baker was threatening to stab him and didn't seem to care that he was at gunpoint. He said he was pleading with Baker to drop the knife.
"Desperately trying to figure out whatever hook - whatever thing I could say - to him to get him to put down the knife. Because my fear was that everything I said to him wasn’t having an effect,” Boynton explained.
Boynton said when another officer arrived on scene, he looked at them, taking his eyes off Baker for a moment.
“Beau took that opportunity to advance in my direction,” Boynton said.
That’s when Boynton fired his gun.
“The first ones missed. I remember there was this fear that for some reason I’m pulling the trigger, and nothing is happening,” stated Boynton. “If I don’t do something more, I’m going to die.”
Boynton said the last time he pulled the trigger was the round that stopped Baker - hitting him in the centre of his body. Boynton quickly began life-saving efforts on Baker.
According to the Boynton, he’s tormented himself by thinking of different outcomes, but he always concludes the only correct response was the one that happened that day.
Holding back tears, Boynton said he has a son too.
“Parents shouldn’t have to bury their kids. And for the role I played in that, I’m sorry."
During cross examination, Boynton was asked if he ever told Baker he would shoot him if he moved.
Boynton said he believed he did, but it wasn't recorded in any notes or earlier testimony.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS REACT
The inquest was the first time Baker’s family heard what happened on April 2, 2015. Earlier in the inquest, the family said the details of the shooting were tough to take.
"They’ve waited a really long time to really actually find out what happened that night. They've been getting bits and pieces. So, it's really important for them to be able to hear everything," Asha James, the lawyer for the Baker family, said.
On Friday afternoon, the family’s lawyer released statements on behalf of the family.
“We are deeply concerned by the message that the jury’s verdict of suicide sends to other people experiencing crisis and interacting with police. However, I believe that if Beau had access to the types of services that the jury calls for in its recommendations, they would have changed the trajectory of Beau’s life. I hope the recommendations will be implemented and prevent another family from having to go through what we have gone through,” Beau Baker’s mother, Jackie Baker, said in the statement.
Lawyer Asha James also wrote a statement that read: “While we are disappointed that the jury did not find that Beau’s death was a homicide, the jury’s verdict is a recognition that Beau was a person suffering from mental illness who was crying out for help. Tragically, Beau never received the help he so desperately needed. It is clear from this jury’s verdict and recommendations that we need to change the way we look at those suffering with mental illness in this province and recognize it as a health issue instead of a criminal issue. The jury provided a roadmap for how to improve these systems and remedy these failings. We hope that the provincial ministries involved, the children’s aid societies, and the police services in Ontario will follow these recommendations to the letter. Without systemic reform, and sufficient funding, these systems will continue to fail young people like Beau Baker.”
WRPS POLICE CHIEF RESPONDS
"The Waterloo Regional Police Service respects the verdict handed down today and would like to acknowledge and thank the work of the Coroner’s Office, the jury, the participants, and the witnesses," said WRPS chief Mark Crowell. "A proceeding such as this is difficult for all involved and we would again like to extend our sincere condolences to the Baker family for the loss of Beau Baker. Our thoughts are also with our members who were impacted by this tragedy and we will continue to support them."
Crowell said the recommendations presented will be immediately reviewed and assigned to the appropriate branches to examine implementation and areas of improvement.
"We want to assure the Baker family and the community that we remain committed to learning from these recommendations to ensure such tragedies are prevented," he said.
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