Sister alleges ‘gross negligence’ behind deadly police taking pictures of Edmonton bystander
EDMONTON — A woman says her brother was sitting by his TV in his basement suite last February when he was killed by a stray police bullet, calling it the result of “gross negligence” from officers responding to a robbery.
Susan Bandola says her 59-year-old brother, James Hanna, had recently moved into the apartment in downtown Edmonton after becoming the building’s on-site manager. She said that he had been homeless for a time couch-surfing.
“He was just getting his life together and then this happens.”
Police have said a stray bullet struck “an innocent person not involved” while officers were shooting at a suspect in an armed robbery at a liquor store.
The provincial police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, said officers chased the 36-year-old robbery suspect on foot and shot him. ASIRT said the suspect’s firearm was fake.
Police have said shortly after, they discovered a resident in the adjacent building had also been struck. ASIRT has said officers administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
“I think James was dead by the time they found him,” said Bandola, a registered nurse, who thinks officers did CPR because witnesses were watching.
Bandola said Hanna was sitting in a chair facing the television when he was hit.
“Had his chair been in any other place, he wouldn’t have been hit,” she said.
Bandola said an autopsy report she obtained showed the bullet that hit Hanna, blew out the base of his hand, went through his left lung, hit his heart and landed in his right lung.
When Bandola went to the apartment after her brother’s death, she spotted six bullet holes in the side of the building, five of which hit Hanna’s suite.
“It’s senseless,” said Bandola. “I have been there at 6:30 at night. People were coming home from work. They’re walking down the street.”
The shooting took place across light-rail transit tracks near MacEwan University.
“It could’ve been a bloodbath,” Bandola said.
Hanna had been an active member of Narcotics Anonymous for 10 years, Bandola said, adding he would often be accompanied by addicts during his day-to-day activities as a way to keep them clean and occupied before they received treatment.
“He was very proud that he’d been clean for 10 years and still working his program,” said Bandola, who also said Hanna was proud to be Métis.
“He was very kind to animals and children. He was big on hugs,” Bandola said, adding he loved to travel and had been to Africa and Europe.
Bandola said during Edmonton’s heat waves, Hanna would hand out bottled water to homeless folks downtown.
ASIRT declined to comment as its investigation is ongoing, but said it anticipates the investigation will be complete in the next few months.
An ASIRT spokesperson said after it completes its investigation, the agency’s executive director will review it and decide whether to recommend criminal charges.
The spokesperson said a high number of cases and not enough staff have caused delays.
Bandola contacted personal injury lawyer Norm Assiff after her brother’s death and plans to take legal action once the ASIRT report has been released.
“This was just horrific,” Assiff said. “Should have never happened. There are so many ways that this could have been avoided.”
Assiff said Alberta’s Fatal Accident Act ensures surviving next of kin receive $82,000, but he thinks a life is worth much more.
“Obviously this is not something that the family is looking to get rich on,” said Assiff.
“If we don’t do something about it, don’t bring it to the public’s attention, don’t bring it to the court’s attention, don’t bring it to the police’s attention, what’s to stop it from happening again?” he said.
Bandola said she does not believe Edmonton police took the shooting seriously.
“What really makes me angry is that there was no formal apology to my father,” Bandola said, adding their 82-year-old father was deeply affected.
Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee said during a Feb. 24 news conference that the shooting was difficult for everyone involved — “especially, in something like this where somebody, an innocent person not involved in this, has lost a life. That’s not anything anyone ever signs up for.”
Edmonton police spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said in an email that all officers involved have completed the mandatory the reintegration program and that they have returned to their roles. The police service would not say when the officers were put back on duty, but said that they may have never been taken off in the first place.
EPS said that they require officers to take firearms training once a year on top of an annual qualification.
Bandola said she thinks about her brother every day.
“I think about wanting justice for James and how if it would have been anybody else, how he would want justice for them.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Angela Amato, The Canadian Press