The family of a Winnipeg man who died after Vancouver police shot him multiple times with a bean bag shotgun Monday is demanding answers about the actions of officers.
Chris Amyotte, 42, was unarmed and begging for help after he was injured in a bear mace attack in the B.C. city’s Downtown Eastside, said his cousin Samantha Wilson.
He died a short time later during the encounter with police, who responded to at least one call from the public.
“They need to be held accountable,” Wilson said of police. “A lot of witnesses said he wasn’t trying to harm anyone.
“It’s really sad that my cousin died the way he did, asking for help. When help arrived, they took his life.”
She wants to know more about any de-escalation efforts and what went into the police decision to use the bean bag gun on her cousin.
“It’s been pretty traumatic for everyone. We’re a large family,” said Wilson. “Our main concern is to make sure Chris comes home.”
Family members have travelled from Manitoba to Vancouver to handle matters there and bring his body home.
Amyotte, who lived in Winnipeg for most of his life, was from Rolling River First Nation, about 75 kilometres north of Brandon.
He travelled to Vancouver to visit two of his seven children and other family members.
Based on witness accounts, Wilson said Amyotte went into the street after the bear mace attack, which “wasn’t meant for him,” and began asking bystanders to help him.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said of the attack. “Wherever he was, he left and went onto the street. He wanted someone to call 911.”
A distraught Amyotte removed his clothes and poured milk from a jug in an effort to relieve his pain, said Wilson.
The jug was from a nearby convenience store.
Wilson said he would have been in pain, and his vision may have been blurred.
Bystanders were trying to help Amyotte when police arrived and told him to get down on the ground, said Wilson.
According to a witness, Amyotte told officers he could not get on the ground due to the effects of being sprayed in the earlier attack, she said.
“When police arrived, they drew what they’re calling a non-lethal weapon,” said Wilson, referring to the bean bag shotgun.
Amyotte was shot twice in the chest and four times in the back, she said.
A family member was with Amyotte after he was sprayed.
Wilson doesn’t know if the family member witnessed him being shot with the bean bag gun.
She described Amyotte as a “jokester” who liked to tease relatives and was dedicated to taking care of his family.
“He was outgoing and he loved his family, his children and his partner,” said Wilson.
Vancouver police and B.C.’s police watchdog have released few details about the incident.
In a news release issued Monday, police said officers were called shortly before 8 a.m. after a man was seen acting erratically near Hastings Street and Dunlevy Avenue.
The man was taken into custody following an “interaction” with officers.
He went into medical distress, lost consciousness and died at the scene, despite life-saving attempts, said police, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Earlier in the week, police deferred comment to the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.
The civilian-led watchdog is investigating to determine if police action or inaction played any role in the in-custody death.
The IIO declined to comment.
An IIO news release sent Monday mirrors the details released by police.
The watchdog said police responded to a report of a man acting erratically, and the man went into medical distress during an “interaction.”
Police and paramedics attempted to resuscitate the man before he died, the IIO said.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.