Gunsmithing industry

Family of Gunsmith Killed in Toronto Police Raid Say SIU Report Doesn’t Tell Full Story

Family of renowned gunsmith says Ontario police watchdog doesn’t tell the whole story in report that clears officer who fatally shot Rodger Kotanko, 70, of wrongdoing .

“They expect us to believe that my brother, who has been shooting his whole life…has been a gunsmith for over 40 years, would look for a gun on the bench that is unloaded, with no magazine in it…picked it up and fired it. pointed at an officer pointed at him with a gun, finger on the trigger,” Jeffrey Kotanko told reporters and a crowd of about 50 Tuesday morning outside his brother’s home.

“It wasn’t Billy the Kid. Come on, no one in their right mind would even consider doing that.”

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) released a report last week it says the officer who shot Rodger in his gun shop did so in self-defense. Kotanko died on November 3.

Search warrant documents show that police arrived to investigate why two firearms registered to Rodger’s name were found at a crime scene in Toronto and another in North Bay, Ontario.

Surveillance video released by the family appears to show five officers arriving at the home and the armory shop and interacting with Rodger’s wife, Jessie.

The trees block the view of the studio door, so the video doesn’t capture the interaction with Rodger, but what happens in those moments varies depending on who you ask.

Family challenges SIU finding

When officers arrived at the home, according to the SIU final report, two officers wearing police vests announced they were executing a search warrant and approached the gun shop.

The report says the door to the shop was open and they asked Rodger and a client he was with to raise their hands.

They say Rodger did not raise his hands, but instead took out a gun and pointed it at police, according to the SIU.

He refused to let go and an officer shot him four times, according to the report.

The whole exchange would have lasted between five and 10 seconds.

“The officer fired his weapon to protect himself – and possibly the other officer – from a reasonably apprehended assault,” the SIU report read.

“It is important to note that the civilian eyewitness evidence was materially consistent with the police eyewitness accounts.”

The family and their attorney say details they gathered, including information from a client representative, suggest Rodger was in a swivel chair with his back to the door.

When police arrived at the door, the family says, he turned around holding the gun he was working on – then he was shot.

The mailbox outside Rodger Kotanko’s home on Port Ryerse Road in Norfolk County, Ontario bears his surname. He lived there with his wife, who left China a few years ago, according to friends, family and neighbors. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Another key family objection is that Rodger’s wife offered a written statement to the SIU, despite the report saying she did not respond.

The family says they did not hear the officers announce their presence or what they were doing.

“I’m just angry, furious,” said Suzanne Kantor, Rodger’s sister.

The family also wonders why the police decided to approach Kotanko while he was inside his gun-filled workshop with an innocent client.

SIU Defends Report, Will Eventually Be Investigated

SIU spokeswoman Kristy Denette told CBC Hamilton the unit stands by its report and has no further comment.

Toronto police spokeswoman Connie Osborne would not comment on some of the family’s allegations and said her internal investigation is still ongoing.

“Assuming the worst is still, from a legal standpoint, this raid was reckless and negligent from planning to execution,” said Mike Smitiuch, the family’s attorney.

The Kotanko family is still suing the Toronto Police Services Board for $23 million in a civil lawsuit, claiming police conducted an unlawful raid that led to Rodger’s wrongful death.

Smitiuch said there will also be an inquest into Rodger’s death. A survey is mandatory whenever someone’s death involves the police.

Stephanie Rea, issues manager at the Office of the Chief Coroner, said the inquest would begin once all other inquests are complete – it’s unclear how long that will take.

“For reference, the inquest underway this week relates to a 2018 death,” she wrote in an email.

But Rodger’s family have made it clear they will fight for as long as it takes to get answers.