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Parents not convinced officers had no choice in shooting son

September 8, 2013

By Lethbridge Herald on July 26, 2013.

Jasmaya Puri wipes away a tear while sitting alongside her husband Dilli Friday morning as their family talks with a reporter about their son Deu Raj, who was killed in an officer-involved shooting last July. Herald photo by Ian MartensJasmaya Puri wipes away a tear while sitting alongside her husband Dilli Friday morning as their family talks with a reporter about their son Deu Raj, who was killed in an officer-involved shooting last July. Herald photo by Ian Martens

Katie May
LETHBRIDGE HERALD
kmay@lethbridgeherald.com
Deu Raj Puri isn’t smiling. He’s wearing a green polo shirt, broad shoulders squared toward the camera in an enduring non-pose, his stern gaze locked on the lens.
He never did like having his photo taken.
But the day he died, he relented. He seemed to know that day would be his last, and even told his family he wouldn’t live much longer.
“He said that ‘I’m going to die tonight or today,’ and the same thing happened at night-time,” his older brother Naresh said. “I was thinking that he was joking. He was not serious, right?”
The photo, framed and draped with green ribbon, hangs on the Puri family’s living room wall. It’s one of the only photos they have to remember their 26-year-old son and brother, taken on July 15, 2012 — a day they’re trying to forget.
His parents, Dilli and Jasmaya, along with their four sons and three daughters, have so many unanswered questions about the night Deu Raj died. An investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) found two Lethbridge police officers were justified when they fired a total of seven gun shots at Deu Raj, hitting him five times from less than 10 feet away, ultimately killing him. Investigators found the officers had reason to believe Deu Raj was going to hurt them.
But no matter how they look at it, the Puri family isn’t convinced officers had no choice but to shoot their son.
Investigators said Deu Raj had been threatening others with a knife, but his family believes he was a danger only to himself, and that he had been trying to co-operate with police in a frenzied atmosphere made lethal by miscommunication.
Just before 11 p.m. that night, Deu Raj was drunk, cutting his arm with a vegetable knife, when Naresh decided to call 911.
“I was thinking that the police can come, they can catch him and they can put him in a rehab centre and other places so that he can improve his life. I was thinking about that, but it happened (so quickly),” Naresh said. “That was my great mistake, to call the police.”
In the eight months since they arrived in Lethbridge from a Nepalese refugee camp, the family had called police to their westside home four times — each time because Deu Raj was threatening to kill himself.
The third of five Puri sons, Deu Raj lived in the refugee camp since he was six years old, when the family fled their home in the South Asian Kingdom of Bhutan to escape persecution. In camp, he was content, his parents said. He loved to cook and was eager to whip up some spicy meat curry dishes for his family — served with a side of laughter as he entertained with his impressions of famous comedians. He went to school with his siblings, but unlike them, he struggled to learn English. He focused instead on working to earn money for the family. He went to Kathmandu to work in the construction industry and travelled to India for a brief stint as a security guard, always sending money back to his parents. When the family got ready to come to Canada, Deu Raj was excited. He looked forward to having a stable, peaceful place to live, his parents said.
“Whatever he expected that he would see here didn’t happen,” said his mother, Jasmaya, through a translator.
“If we were there (in camp) we would not have lost our son, so we regret to come here.”
His language barrier was Deu Raj’s greatest hurdle to finding gainful employment, his family said. And with no job and no way to communicate outside of his Bhutanese community, Deu Raj became idle. He took courses in English as a second language and eventually found seasonal farm work, but he also started drinking.
“When he’s drunk, his mind is totally changed. The way of thinking is changed,” said Naresh, who added he believed his brother needed help for depression and that he had relayed his concerns to police and immigration services several times. On one of those occasions, police officers even took Deu Raj to the hospital.
But on the night Deu Raj died, police didn’t ask the family what was going on before they entered the house, Naresh said. They told his English-speaking brothers to stay outside, and within seconds, the brothers heard gunshots.
“The way they behaved was totally different than the (other officers). They pushed us from the room and they didn’t say anything. They just directly entered the home and they shoot the gun within seconds. I can’t believe that. I was totally unsatisfied with the police,” said Naresh, who said he wished police would’ve subdued his brother another, non-fatal, way.
The officers rushed into the house, shone a flashlight in Deu Raj’s eyes and shouted at him to drop his knife. Deu Raj then wobbled to his feet and raised his arms over his head. But he didn’t understand that he had to put down the knife, his family said. Instead, they said, he was likely putting his hands up to surrender and walked toward them because he anticipated going with them, as he had four times before.
Deu Raj had been shot five times, and his parents, younger sister and three-year-old nephew — huddled in a stairwell overlooking the tiny living room — saw the whole thing.
“They are going to kill all of us. Maybe they brought us here to kill,” his father Dilli thought at the time, expressing his feelings with the help of a translator.
After that night, Dilli and Jasmaya never went back to that house. They and their children now live in a different neighbourhood, but they still think about Deu Raj constantly and even dream about him at night.
Despite Deu Raj’s many threats, his family doesn’t believe he actually wanted to die, just that he needed help. Now, they hope no one else will have to go through what they’ve been through.
“From hereafter we wish that nothing like this will happen to anybody’s sons. And the community, I hope it will be nice for everybody,” his mother said.
A provincial fatality inquiry into Deu Raj’s death is expected to begin within a year. When the inquiry is finished, the presiding judge may make recommendations about how such situations should be handled in the future.
But the Puri family doesn’t know what good the inquiry will do them. Jasmaya said the loss of her son is like a scar that will remain in her heart for the rest of her life.
“I cannot distinguish what is day and what is night. I have no idea what is coming,” she said.

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