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'It's perverse': Family of unarmed man killed by police shocked no charges will be brought against officer

The family of Steven Nguyen, who was killed by an Edmonton police officer in 2021, gave a press conference May 15, 2024, after learning no charges would be brought against the officer. (Galan McDougall/CTV News Edmonton) The family of Steven Nguyen, who was killed by an Edmonton police officer in 2021, gave a press conference May 15, 2024, after learning no charges would be brought against the officer. (Galan McDougall/CTV News Edmonton)
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An Edmonton police officer won't face charges for killing an unarmed man in 2021, despite Alberta's police watchdog finding evidence that an offence was committed.

On June 6, Const. Alexander Doduk shot and killed 33-year-old Steven Nguyen while responding to a weapons complaint in Rosslyn around 11 p.m.

An investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) found several issues with Doduk's account of events, but Wednesday announced that no charges would be brought.

"As a mother, I'm heartbroken. What happened to my son, not getting justice. It kills me everyday," said Nguyen's mother, Maria Nguyen.

"What happened to my brother should have never happened. He was unarmed, he had no weapons, he didn't deserve to die," said Chris Nguyen.

The night Nguyen was killed, ASIRT said someone reported he was walking around near 107 Street and 134 Avenue with what the caller thought was a knife, ice pick or screwdriver.

When Doduk and his partner found Nguyen, a long blue handle could be seen in one of his pockets.

ASIRT said Doduk provided cover while his partner briefly spoke to Nguyen, who told him he was collecting bottles and cans and he had done nothing wrong.

During this time, Nguyen reportedly reached into his pocket where the blue object was. 

When Doduk's partner ordered him to get his hand away from his pocket, Nguyen reportedly started backing away saying, "Whoah, whoah, I'm not doing anything."

Doduk told ASIRT Nguyen was moving his hand in his pocket in a way that seemed to him the man was trying to "retrieve something." Believing he was armed and posed a threat of serious injury or death, Doduk drew his gun.

When Nguyen turned toward him and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, Doduk fired at him seven times.

Nguyen was shot four times and died shortly after.

ASIRT said Doduk started shooting fewer than five seconds after Nguyen reached for his pocket; the entire interaction, from when the first officer got out of the vehicle to when Doduk shot Nguyen, took around 30 seconds.

Doduk told ASIRT he believed he was going to die if he didn't act immediately and stop the "lethal threat."

A barbeque lighter and a cell phone were recovered from the scene. No weapon was found.

The lighting

In his statement to ASIRT, Doduk mentioned poor lighting several times.

He said "dark shadow" obscured the man, put the officers under streetlights at a disadvantage and contributed to his belief Nguyen's cell phone was a gun.

"The (man) was not wearing gloves and despite the dark shadow he was in, I could see clearly that the white skin of his fingers were oriented in a manner consistent with holding the grip of a pistol," Doduk said.

However, ASIRT said Doduk's version of events was "problematic for a variety of reasons," including his claims of how dark it was.

Doduk's partner said the lighting at the scene was enough that he could see Nguyen, his clothing and the colour of the blue object from inside the police vehicle.

A lighting recreation by ASIRT confirmed the lighting at that time was sufficient and there were no dark shadows on the sidewalk that would prevent officers from seeing Nguyen.

Additionally, infrared images from Air-1 show what appeared to be an active flashlight on the ground near where Doduk fired the shots.

Doduk's partner said he didn't use his own flashlight, because there was enough light with the street light to see the man.

No officers at the scene remember seeing a flashlight, no flashlight was found and Doduk denied using one.

"From the moment of exiting my police vehicle until the moment I began rendering first aid on the suspect that was shot, I did not use my flashlight," Doduk told ASIRT.

The photograph

After the shooting, Doduk was asked to leave the scene but was seen by another officer returning shortly after to take a picture of the cell phone, saying "this is what he pulled out, this is what he had in his hand."

ASIRT said that photo may have influenced his later description of "a smaller silver or lighter coloured circle" he believed "was the silver inside of a barrel (of a gun)."

"In this case, while (Doduk) subjectively believed that it was reasonable to shoot (the man), objectively this belief is lacking," ASIRT's report said.

"(Doduk's) description of what he felt was the firearm may be purposely tailored to fit the description of his photo of the phone," ASIRT said. "Additionally, (the) description of the lighting is rebutted by the ASIRT investigation and the statement from his partner."

"Furthermore, there is the issue with the missing flashlight," the report continued. "When (Doduk) was photographed after receiving his subject officer notification he has a fellow officer’s flashlight on his duty belt and his own flashlight is not accounted for."

Despite ASIRT finding "reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed," the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) recommended no charges be laid.

"The Crown prosecutor assessed all the circumstances of this event and the potential admissible evidence and determined it could not be proven that the actions of the officer were unreasonable," ACPS said in a statement Wednesday. "In hindsight, the perception of the constable was mistaken, and the result was tragic, but the action taken could not be proven to be criminal."

Nguyen's family members were shocked by that decision.

"The Crown's decision not to prosecute is perverse. It's baffling how anyone could have come to this conclusion," said lawyer Samantha Labahn. "To make matters worse, we have no way to scrutinize."

Tom Engel, another lawyer for the family, said decisions like the ones in this case call the integrity of Alberta's criminal justice system into question.

"I think the public is left with the inescapable conclusion that there's a double standard," Engel said, adding the family will be seeking civil action in the death. 

In 2019, Doduk was accused of using excessive force and breaking a man's nose during an arrest.

ASIRT found "reasonable grounds" that he had committed an offence and Doduk was charged with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm in 2023.

A pre-trial conference for those charges is set for Aug. 7.

The Edmonton Police Service said Doduk is currently on leave with pay, "unrelated to any ASIRT investigation."

Correction

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote from Samantha Labahn and incorrectly reported the location of the shooting.

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