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Burger King shooting: Man killed in police altercation once sued officer for near-shooting

Toronto Star
Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Burger King shooting: Man killed in police altercation once sued officer for near-shootingFive years before he died in a gunfire altercation with police this month, Zoltan Hyacinth narrowly escaped a bullet fired from a Toronto police constable’s gun.

An October 2007 violent struggle between Hyacinth and a police officer who instructed his partner — if necessary — to shoot the teenager from Trinidad would spark a civil lawsuit in which Hyacinth alleged he was the victim of excessive, malicious use of force and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

The incident would have a grave effect on both their lives.

For Ariyeh Krieger, a rookie constable, it brought on post-traumatic stress disorder, in turn leading to a temporary dismissal from the Toronto police force.

For Hyacinth, it sparked a morbid conviction.

“Mr. Hyacinth believed from that day forward that he was a marked man and that he would one day die in an altercation with police officers,” Alonzo Abbey, Hyacinth’s lawyer, said in a statement Saturday.

Sporting grey hoodies featuring Hyacinth’s photo on the back, his family gathered Sunday at Ogden Funeral Home to remember the 23-year-old who aspired to one day become a professional cook.

Hyacinth was fatally shot in a Burger King drive-through on March 17, following what the province’s Special Investigations Unit has deemed an interaction with police.

Police had been monitoring Hyacinth for a suspected connection to a recent violent robbery. SIU investigators are now probing the death.

“Zoltan loved life and we loved him. And he will be dearly missed,” said his weeping mother on Sunday, describing the days since her son’s death as a “living nightmare.”

“It is my hope that everything surrounding Zoltan’s death will be transparent to us so that we can come to terms with our terrible loss,” she said.

The details of Hyacinth’s death have not been revealed by police or the SIU.

Abbey claims Hyacinth was shot while an officer struggled to remove him from the driver’s seat, and that his female passenger was charged with possession of the firearm that killed him, though that has not been confirmed by police.

Abbey, also a long-time mentor to Hyacinth, represented him in the civil lawsuit the young man launched in 2009, which was settled out of court under terms subject to a confidentiality agreement.

The suit stemmed from his altercation with police on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007, near Yorkdale mall. Hyacinth had been leaving the mall with his cousin and a friend when they passed two paid-duty cops.

Krieger, a Toronto police officer who had completed five months as a probationary constable, saw what he believed was a gun hidden in Hyacinth’s right pants pocket, according to his statement of defence, so he and Const. Jeremy Samson followed the teens outside.

According to both Hyacinth’s statement of claim and the police statement of defence, Krieger stopped Hyacinth and did a brief search for weapons. When Hyacinth identified himself, the officers learned he was on probation for a robbery charge and prohibited from possessing any weapons.

Both claims say Krieger was convinced Hyacinth was concealing a weapon, so he reached for Hyacinth’s pocket.

In the defence statement, Krieger claimed he latched onto a gun as he did so. A struggle ensued.

“When the defendant Krieger felt that he was losing the struggle for the gun, he told the defendant Samson to unholster his gun and, if necessary, shoot (Hyacinth),” says the statement of defence.

“Don’t shoot me,” Hyacinth said, according to court documents filed for his lawsuit, while his cousin pleaded: “Please don’t shoot my cousin.”

Both claims say Samson shot and missed.

Hyacinth, “terrified and fearing for his life,” fled on foot, with the officers running behind him, according to his statement of claim.

The teenager was arrested at his home that night and was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, assaulting a police officer and breaching a youth probation order.

All of the charges were ultimately withdrawn.

For Krieger, the fight with Hyacinth “triggered an acute stress reaction which was not immediately apparent to him,” according to a ruling made by the province’s Human Rights Tribunal.

Krieger appealed to the tribunal after Toronto police found him “unfit for duty,” following another altercation that occurred just five weeks later.

According to the tribunal’s decision report, Krieger harmed an intoxicated man inside a McDonald’s restaurant, forcing him outside, holding him in a headlock, and knocking his head on the doorframe of a cab as a crowd of appalled patrons and staff members looked on. The incident ultimately led to his dismissal.

Krieger appealed to the human rights tribunal, saying he had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that had resulted from the incident with Hyacinth.

In a June 2010 decision, the tribunal found that Krieger had been discriminated against based on disability, and ordered his reinstatement with the force.

Hyacinth’s funeral is Tuesday.

With files from Touria Izri
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