But SIU director chastises unnamed Peel officer for ‘tampering’ with scene by removing controversial knife for several hours

Since the day he was shot dead by Peel Regional Police in Brampton, Jermaine Carby’s supporters have speculated he never brandished a weapon at officers who shouted “drop the knife” moments before Carby was fatally shot.

Carby simply never had a knife, they suggest.

“Where is this knife?” a family member asked skeptically at a news conference last fall, one week after Carby was killed on Sept. 24, later referring to witness accounts that stated no knife was visible in Carby’s hand.

“Where’s the knife?” a protester wrote on a bright yellow sign at a vigil last December for Carby.

As it turns out, independent investigators from the province’s Special Investigations Unit who arrived at Queen St. E. and Kennedy Rd. last September were asking the same question.

SIU director Tony Loparco revealed Tuesday that civilian agency’s investigators found no knife at the scene. Instead the weapon — a 13-centimetre serrated kitchen knife — was located “several hours” later, when an acting Peel sergeant handed it over, saying a responding officer had removed the knife from the scene, placed it in a paper bag and given it to a senior officer.

Though Loparco ultimately ruled there was enough evidence to show Carby had a knife — and that no criminal charges should be laid against the unnamed officer because he shot in self-defence — it’s likely that others won’t be convinced, he concedes in a frank and harshly worded statement.

“The removal of the knife ensures that some members of the community will harbour concerns, legitimate concerns in my view, regarding the very existence of the knife,” Loparco wrote.

The unnamed officer’s “highly regrettable” decision to “tamper” with the evidence has “cast a pall over the integrity” of the SIU’s probe when the stakes were highest, he said.

“In this most serious of cases, where an agent of the state has taken the life of a citizen, the community was minimally entitled to expect that an independent investigation would be left to pursue its work on the basis of a secure scene and uncompromised physical evidence,” he wrote. “They were denied that investigation.”

Peel Regional Police spokesperson Sgt. Matt Small said the force’s Investigative Support Bureau will carry out a comprehensive review of its policies and the conduct of police officers following Loparco’s decision in the case.

Carby, 33, was a passenger in a black Jetta that was pulled over when a police officer on patrol noticed it had an obscured licence plate and the headlights weren’t on. According to the SIU investigation, the officer then ran Carby’s name through his in-car system and discovered Carby had outstanding warrants from British Columbia and a criminal record.

The exchange became heated when Carby was asked about the outstanding warrants. According to the SIU, Carby then pulled out a knife and walked in the direction of the officer and two others who had arrived on scene.

“The officers repeatedly ordered Mr. Carby to drop the knife and stop his advance, but he kept walking toward them, all the while challenging the officers to shoot him. One of the officers asked for a senior officer to attend the scene with a conducted-energy weapon as this was happening, but none arrived,” Loparco wrote.

As Carby kept walking, the officer fired his gun seven times, striking him in the chest, left forearm and back. It is “potentially” troubling that Carby was shot in the back, but Loparco said that may be explained by the fact that one civilian and the witness officers said Carby was twisting and spinning as he was shot.

In late 2011, Carby’s name was circulated when Vancouver police announced they had arrested a man by that name for manslaughter in the stabbing death of a 50-year-old man and for assault on two women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police Insp. Brad Desmarais told the Vancouver Sun at that time that Carby was “one of the most well-known street-level enforcers in the Downtown Eastside, with a long history of violence, drug trafficking and drug possession.”

The SIU investigation — which drew on information from six witness officers, 12 civilian witnesses and video shot by a citizen on a cellphone — concluded the officer’s use of fatal force was authorized because it was in self-defence.

The officer who shot Carby did not agree to an SIU interview or to provide a copy of his duty notes, which he is legally entitled to do.

Despite the loss of evidence that occurred when the Peel officer removed the knife, Loparco said the “overriding weight” of the evidence establishes Carby had a knife. That includes test results from the Centre of Forensic Sciences that found Carby’s DNA on the knife, and eyewitness statements from civilian and police witnesses.

The SIU did not respond by press time to a Star question asking whether Carby could be clearly seen holding a knife in the civilian video reviewed by investigators.

 La Tanya Grant, Carby’s cousin, said she and others remain skeptical about the official account of the shooting. The family has hired a private investigator and plans to launch a civil suit against Peel police.

“I think there wasn’t any knife,” said Grant said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s a lot of discrepancies in their story.”