The Calgary police officer who fatally shot a distressed man in a hotel room five years ago has quit after the chief sent the case to a disciplinary hearing — a move the victim’s family calls “cowardly.”
Anthony Heffernan, 27, was shot by Const. Maurice McLaughlin four times, including three shots to the head and neck, on March 16, 2015, after police were called to the northeast hotel check on the victim.
Alberta is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdictions in the country where police officers can resign in the face of discipline and maintain a clean record.
“I’m not actually surprised with it,” said Pat Heffernan, Anthony’s father, from his home in Prince Albert, Sask. “I think it’s a very cowardly thing for McLaughlin to do rather than face the charges.”
“I think in his personality, the way he treated Anthony, he showed very cowardly actions also, because there actually was no risk to his life or anyone else’s at that time.”
Officer ‘has decided to move on’
The Calgary Police Service will now lose jurisdiction over McLaughlin, though he could be compelled to testify at the internal hearing that will still go ahead involving other officers who had responded to the hotel room.
But McLoughlin’s lawyer, Cory WIlson, said in resigning, his client “is in no way admitting guilt or trying to evade the process.”
“He intends on making himself available for the internal CPS hearing and will attend voluntarily as a private citizen,” said Wilson.
“After 20 years of dedicated police service, the internal politics at CPS have taken a toll on Mr. McLoughlin and his family. It is for this reason that he has decided to move on.”
The Calgary Police Service called the killing of Heffernan a “tragic event” but said it cannot comment on what charges McLaughlin would have faced at the disciplinary hearing as the matter is ongoing.
Because he’s resigned, McLaughlin can apply to another police service with a clean record.
“The Criminal Trial Lawyers Association’s police committee has been asking the provincial government to close this loophole whereby they allow police officers to retire with a clear record,” said the Heffernans’ lawyer, Tom Engle.
In 2009, Engle sent a letter to the solicitor general asking for the “unacceptable gap” in the Police Act to be closed by the provincial government.
Engle says the Law Enforcement Review Board has also asked the government to change the practice.
Inside the hotel room
On March 16, 2015, police were called to the Super 8 hotel on Barlow Trail to check on Heffernan, who had relapsed and was taking drugs. Heffernan was alone in his hotel room until police arrived.
According to an account of events from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates police actions in the province, officers could see Heffernan through the partially opened door and described him as “flushed, non-responsive and hyperventilating.”
The officers said Heffernan was holding a lighter and syringe and did not obey police commands to drop them.
Polcie Tasered Heffernan, but it seemed to have no effect and he began pulling at the wires.
McLaughlin shot at Heffernan six times, hitting him with four bullets.
While being investigated for the Super 8 shooting, McLaughlin was back on the street and responded to another call involving a man who was shooting out his door into his neighbourhood.
McLaughlin was one of three officers to shoot at Dave McQueen.
Critics said he should not have been in a position to fire his weapon before being cleared by ASIRT.
ASIRT eventually sent its investigative findings to the provincial Crown’s office.
Although ASIRT found there was enough evidence to recommend charges, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service provided a final opinion that there was “no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
The Crown ultimately decided not to lay charges against McLaughlin.
RCMP were then called in by CPS to do its internal Police Act investigation.
“Ordinarily, the affected police service conducts those investigations,” said CPS in a written statement provided to CBC News.
“In this case, in order to demonstrate continued independence, CPS determined it would be preferable for another police service to carry out the internal investigation. The RCMP agreed to conduct the investigation on our behalf.”
Following an “extensive” investigation, findings were handed over to CPS last summer. Those findings were then reviewed internally.
This week, Neufeld decided to charge some of the officers involved, including McLaughlin, with Police Act offences, sending them to a disciplinary hearing, according to CBC News sources.
CPS’s written statement says Neufeld is finalizing those decisions.
On Wednesday, McLaughlin resigned.
‘Living a nightmare’
The family is still hoping for accountability and will be keeping an eye on the other officers as they go through the disciplinary process, and the family has an active lawsuit against the Calgary Police Service.
Pat Heffernan says his son’s death is like ‘living a nightmare all the time.”
“It’s a bad dream that you never come out of.”
It’s been more than five years since Irene Heffernan’s son was killed.
“It’s the last thing we think about at night and the first thing we think about in the morning.”