B.C. firefighters say Myles Gray was laying on his stomach with his wrists and ankles tied together, but that police officers wouldn’t allow them to attend to him until he stopped breathing.
The Burnaby firefighters recounted the events of Aug. 13, 2015 to a coroner’s inquest investigating Gray’s death on Tuesday (April 25).
Lt. Young Robert Lee recalled arriving in the wooded backyard of a Burnaby home that afternoon and seeing four Vancouver police officers on Gray – one holding down his head, one laying on top of his torso, one restraining his legs and one pulling back on a nylon strap that was tied around his ankles.
Gray, 33, was face down in the ground and handcuffed, but was still struggling about in what appeared to Lee as an attempt to throw off the officers.
Firefighter Scott Frizzel and now-retired Capt. John Campbell also described Gray as moving around, but both said he was “well restrained.”
Lee told the inquest that as he and Campbell moved in to assess Gray they were told by a police officer that they weren’t allowed to because Gray was “still combative.” Lee said it is fairly standard for firefighters to be told to wait if a situation is considered dangerous.
Still hoping to get a read on Gray’s medical condition from a distance, Lee said he walked in a circle around the scene.
“I could see there were a number of injuries. There was bruising around both eyes. I remember abrasions on his face, on his forehead. I remember there being a lot of blood.”
Lee said he also saw bruising on Gray’s back, arms and legs and a pool of blood or another bodily fluid next to him.
“The extent of his injuries were very severe.”
Lee said he had some concern about Gray’s ability to breath, but that he continued to see him struggle and grunt. It wasn’t until Gray suddenly stopped moving and police officers turned him onto his back that Lee said he saw Gray exhibiting signs of being cyanotic – a condition in which a patient starts turning blue or purplish due to a lack of oxygen.
Frizzel and Campbell both testified that it was hard to tell whether the discoloration of Gray’s face was because of a lack of oxygen or his extensive facial injuries. A paramedic who arrived on scene shortly after described Gray as “very cyanotic” with blue running from the base of his neck to the top of his head.
As soon as Gray was rolled over and unhandcuffed, a police officer started compressions on him and the firefighters ran back to the street to retrieve their medical equipment. They estimated it took them one to two minutes to have Gray hooked up to an oxygen tank.
The firefighters also had a defibrillator ready to go, but said the device never gave them the go-ahead to shock Gray.
Basic life support paramedics arrived soon after the resuscitation efforts started and hooked Gray up to an IV of saline solution. Advanced life support paramedics showed up next and worked to intubate Gray. Paramedic Stephen Shipman said it was more difficult than usual because Gray’s throat was swollen and had blood in it.
He also noted that when he first saw Gray he didn’t know he was Caucasian because he was bruised so severely.
“He was beaten pretty bad.”
In total, first responders worked on Gray for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating out in shifts, before the 33-year-old was declared dead.
A later autopsy revealed the 33-year-old had been left with numerous broken bones in his face, a broken rib, brain bleeding, ruptured testicles and extensive bruising. Police officers who testified earlier in the inquest said they pepper-sprayed Gray, punched and kicked him, beat him with batons and put him in neck restraints. Many of them said they feared for their life during the encounter and described Gray as having “superhuman” strength.
Gray’s sister, Melissa Gray, testified that her brother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school, but that he hadn’t suffered an episode since then. She described him as “inquisitive, goofy, kind and loyal.”
The inquest is scheduled to last until April 28, with more first responders, doctors and representatives from B.C.’s police watchdog expected to testify. It’s the inquest jury’s job to determine the circumstances of Gray’s death and make recommendations to prevent similar ones from occurring in the future.
It is not their job to lay blame, and no criminal charges have ever been approved against the officers involved.