Hours before Jeffrey Hughes was shot to death in a police confrontation at his apartment building, neighbours say he was angry about the loud partying in a neighbouring unit and was punched after he approached the noisy unit.
Hughes was shot by Nanaimo RCMP Oct. 23, 2009, after police responded to a noise complaint at his apartment building in the 500 block of Selby Street.
On Monday, a coroner’s inquest into the 48-year-old’s death began with police recordings of the confrontation, which revealed Hughes had what police believed to be a gun that he was threatening to use on officers. The weapon was later identified as a flare gun.
On Tuesday, Coroner Marj Paonessa and the seven-member jury heard from the apartment manager, a friend who lived above Hughes and one of his neighbours at the time, as well as two police officers who fired shots.
Apartment manager James Hyzelendoorn and Dino David, a friend who lived in the unit above Hughes, both said Hughes had reached some sort of a boiling over point in the early hours of Oct. 23 about the loud partying.
“I would say that he was losing it – I was losing it,” said David. “I was ready to go down with a mop. That’s the only weapon I know how to use.”
David, who described Hughes as a friend who often helped her out, said the partying started early in the evening the night before. She heard Hughes ask his neighbours several times to keep it down so he could sleep, because he had a job interview the next morning.
The partying started “getting out of control” about a month before the police confrontation, said Hyzelendoorn, and Hughes had complained to him many times.
Two weeks before Hughes was shot, Hyzelendoorn told him that he was going to deal with the problem.
“He had had enough,” he said. “He was a very quiet cat. But that night it just went overboard.”
Around 4 a.m. Oct. 23, Hyzelendoorn, who had been running up and down the stairs all night talking to the party-goers, went down the stairs and saw Hughes walking away from two boys with blood on his face. One of the boys told the manager he had punched Hughes.
Things were quiet until Hughes started playing music loudly, Hyzelendoorn said, at which time he received a call from David complaining about the noise.
John Viney, who lived in a neighbouring apartment, said he and a friend were outside the front door of Viney’s unit when Hughes knocked on the door of the unit next to him, where the party was taking place.
Then Hughes turned toward them because he thought they said something to him, at which time Viney said his friend hit Hughes twice, first with his fist, which knocked him down, and then he kneed him in the face as Viney was trying to help him up.
Hughes went back to his own apartment, leaving a trail of blood.
Two police officers who testified later on Tuesday told the courtroom they fired shots at Hughes and believed he had a real gun.
“I anticipated it to be a real firearm that threatened my life,” said Const. Derek MacFarlane, who testified via videoconference link from Nova Scotia, where he is now stationed. “To me it looked like a revolver-style handgun.”
He said that after the threats started, more backup was called and he arrived on scene.
MacFarlane said another officer – Const. Matthew Watkin – was initially asking Hughes if he was OK and trying to get him to open the door, but Hughes responded with profanities and threats that he had a gun.
MacFarlane heard Hughes say he had nothing to lose and that police were going to “have to pry this weapon from my cold, dead hands.”
While police were standing at the door, MacFarlane said Hughes opened it suddenly and pointed the gun at them.
The officers retreated to the end of the hallway next to the driveway and Hughes eventually went back inside, only to emerge again. MacFarlane and others took cover behind two vehicles and watched as he moved down the hallway and onto the driveway, heading toward Selby Street.
At that point, MacFarlane stepped out from behind the car and yelled at Hughes to drop the gun.
“I said it more than once, I know that,” he said. “Then I said, ‘Do it now.’”
When Hughes turned around to face MacFarlane with both hands on the gun, MacFarlane fired his gun three times, although he was told later that none of his shots hit the target.
Watkin, one of the first officers on scene, told a similar account of the events as he was also at the door to Hughes’s apartment.
Before going up, he interviewed the apartment manager, who had called police. The manager told him Hughes had already assaulted someone and that he might have weapons in his apartment, so Watkin called for another officer to attend.
Earlier, Hyzelendoorn testified that he told officers Hughes was a schizophrenic and had a knife in his apartment.
Watkin said when Hughes came out of the apartment with the gun for the second time, he had both hands on the gun, his knees were bent and it looked as though he was scanning for a target.
Watkin testified that he yelled at Hughes to drop the gun and fired six or seven shots at Hughes.
Watkin said Hughes hunched forward and had a limp as if he had been shot, but continued to walk towards Selby, at which time he turned right and disappeared from view of the officers on the driveway.
At that time, Watkin heard another shot.
The inquest continued Wednesday morning with the evidence of toxicologist Heather Dinn, who testified that she found more than twice the legal limit of alcohol as well as morphine, which Hughes had a prescription for, in post-mortem fluid samples obtained from Hughes.
Other witnesses, including a pathologist and more police officers involved in the confrontation, were expected to take the stand Wednesday after press time. The inquest is scheduled to wrap up Friday (July 29).