New Brunswick coroner's jury says 2020 police killing of Rodney Levi was a homicide

The coroner's jury investigating the police killing of Rodney Levi ruled Friday that his death was a homicide, rejecting the notion that he died from suicide by cop, which had been suggested during the hearings.

Members of Levi's family applauded the jury and hugged each other after the decision was read.

"Hearing suicide by cop (during the inquest), that was the hardest thing," Rodney's sister Rhoda Levi told reporters Friday. "I'm just glad today we can finally breathe. We remember our brother and he did not want to die."

Levi, 48, from the Metepenagiag First Nation, was shot dead by RCMP in Sunny Corner, N.B., on June 12, 2020, after officers responded to a complaint about a man with knives at the home of pastor Brodie MacLeod of the Boom Road Pentecostal Church.

The two RCMP officers who responded to the call testified that Levi had refused to surrender the two kitchen knives. They said they used a stun gun on him three times.

Const. Justin Napke said Levi then told them, "You're going to have to put a bullet in me." Levi allegedly moved toward the two officers before he was fatally shot twice.

During the inquest, witnesses spoke about Levi's mental health and long history of addiction to drugs. The jury was told he often expressed thoughts of suicide. One expert, forensic suicidologist Greg Zed, told the inquest that in his estimation, Levi exhibited several factors that led him to believe the man wanted to die.

"Rodney Levi died as a result of the phenomenon known as suicide by cop," Zed told the inquest.

But jurors did not agree. Instead, they ruled Levi died by homicide.

Jurors issued a long list of recommendations Friday dealing with Indigenous policing, the RCMP, and mental health services.

They called for the reinstatement of the Indigenous band constable program and for detox centres and more mental health services to be located in First Nation communities. They also recommend that RCMP officers not be first responders during wellness checks, but should be on standby. They said the province's health authorities should deploy more mobile mental health crisis units.

The three-woman, two-man jury also recommended more suicide intervention training for the RCMP and for the acceleration of programs across the country to equip officers with body cameras. And they called for mandatory First Nations cultural sensitivity training for police and for suicide intervention training at the cadet level of the RCMP.

The shooting was investigated by Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquetes independantes (BEI), and New Brunswick prosecutors determined the officers on the scene believed Levi was using force against them and were justified in killing him.

Members of the Levi family are critical of the BEI report, however, They say there were holes in the investigation and they question the choices investigators made regarding whom to speak with to base their findings.

After he read the jurors' decision Friday, coroner John Evans told reporters he was "pleased with the outcome."

"We can only hope that the process will roll out with changes that will be positive in terms of all the recommendations that were made."

He stressed the recommendations are not binding.

"They are not directives," Evans said. "They are not obligatory for implementation on the part of the various agencies that are implicated or to whom they will be directed."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2021.